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Gary Robbins

Barkley, A Long Form Race Report


Barkley, A Long Form Race Report

Credits : Des bosses et des bulles

Almost a month on from when I toed the line at The Barkley Marathons and I am literally still unable to feel most of my toes. The scars from the briars have mostly recovered and my energy levels slowly return to normal, though I do swing between feeling near 100% and knowing I still have a ways to go to get back to 100%. 

The Barkley, quite simply, was the toughest race I've ever attempted, and although I did come up just short in the end I was able to take away nothing but positives from the experience, at least after I'd slept on it a few days and come to terms with it all. 

The Barkley documentary that recently made its way to Netflix certainly affected things this year, most notably in the media coverage during and especially after the event. To speak specifically to the documentary on Netflix, having now experienced all that Barkley is I can say that the doc does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of The Barkley, with its quirkiness, unique characters and appeal on all levels. Where the documentary falls flat on its face though is in showing how difficult the Barkley really is. In hindsight I believe the documentary softened my expectations of the purely physical challenge of the event and as such the very first words out of my mouth after my first lap, to Laz were "This is WAY harder than I expected it to be. I'm enjoying it mind you, and I kinda like what you've managed to piece together out here." 

Beyond all the things that makes The Barkley a near impossible undertaking I like to sum it up like this, I know track running and what happens in Frozen Head State Park could not be more diametrically opposed but bare with me here. Consider the sub 4-minute mile, for many years it was considered impossible and at the outer reaches of human possibility, but since Roger Bannister became the first to break the barrier in 1954 the record has dropped by almost 17 seconds and high school runners have since broken the mark. Take the sub 4-minute mile and after every single runner breaks four minutes tack on another 50 meters / 50 yards to the distance, but keep calling it a mile.  This is The Barkley.

Lap 1 - Let's Get This Thing Started Already.

I had been warned that Jared would take it out hard, at least in comparison to what you'd expect a "60-hour" pace to consist of. I decided that I would hang with Jared and the lead pack for the first thirty minutes, no matter the pace, and then assess from there if it were sustainable or not. I thought we'd see a bit of a false charge, or a "scraping" of people as soon as possible. When I veteran makes a move to drop a virgin, it is referred to as scraping them. 

Sure enough just a few minutes in and we were running the first climb. The grade was nothing serious and you'd run it without question during a shorter endeavor as it was a maintained trail, also known as a "candyass trail", but to assess this as a 60-hour pace or not would certainly return with only one answer of "oh hell no." Thankfully, and as expected, once we'd established our lead group of seven the pace eased ever so slightly to a more reasonable clip. Our group consisted of Jared, John Kelly (so local that one of the hills/mountains is named after his family), Andrew Thompson (2009 Finisher), Adam Lint and two french runners. Not a bad group to find yourself with this early on. 

As a virgin I knew the only shot at success was to latch onto a veteran and attempt to learn as much as possible while not getting dropped. My intent, if I did get scraped by Jared and co. was to immediately stop and await the next group of runners to catch up to pair up with them. I did not know Jared in advance of the race beyond a one hour phone call we'd had after I reached out to him asking him if I could run a few questions by him. The main piece of advice I took away from that was, "follow a vet for two laps, ideally someone who is slower than you and take on as little stress as possible while learning as much of the course as you can." We never once spoke about the "what if" of if we would pair up together, but it was always my intent to stick with Jared for as long as it made sense to do so.

We rapidly veered off the candyass trail and through the forest towards our first book. Once we located it I became jubilant, my first Barkley page! On the way into Frozen Head State Park there is a house just before the turn with a small sign for self defense classes and a rather large red sign on the roof of the building simply saying "NINJA". I told Linda I would celebrate each and every book along the course by simply saying NINJA when we found it, whether out loud or to myself I did keep this promise and it helped to keep my spirits light as the race progressed.


As I was celebrating people were pulling pages passing the book along and then darting out of sight. There's no "I" in team and there are no teams in Barkley. As the last person to pull a page I now had a gap to Jared and co. at the front. As we started down our first off-trail descent we were forced through a pinch point in some rocks. I lept forward, caught mud at the bottom and was thrown to my butt for a slide of about ten feet. My backside was covered and people continued to peel away from me. I found myself with AT, asked him about his course knowledge and he said it'd been years since he'd lined up and he was in fact not 100% confident in his nav skills for this new course. He himself was following the leader and we were both about to get scraped. I immediately leaned into the descent and rather recklessly went about attempting to make up ground before the leaders were in fact out of sight. One of the french runners was between myself and the lead pack and he was all that kept them in sight initially. 

Me to myself, "This is NOT a sensible pace right now Gary." "Thanks Captain Obvious, how bout ya shut the hell up and focus on not throwing our race out the window before book two?" "10-4"

At about this time the reality of the Barkley starts to unveil itself. The terrain underfoot is steep and buried beneath organic material, mostly leaves. Every footstep crunches like you're on a early morning winter frost, and every footfall breaks through into something unknown beneath. A patch of mud, a tangled root, a slippery rock, you are constantly being thrown about and often to the ground only to have to pick yourself up time and time again. It is glaringly obvious that the number of ways for your race experience to end prematurely are all but infinite. The Barkley is thrashing me about and I'm not even an hour in, picking myself up off the ground again and again. Thankfully I am closing the gap and by the time we find ourselves at a river crossing to step back onto some candyass trails I'm up in the lead group of four again. Heads down, moving militantly up the second climb, I look down the trail to see AT working hard to catch back up. One French runner is gone and I realize in that moment that there's no messing around here, this isn't an easy stroll in the forest, we're racing.

On the now off-trail descent to book two I am all but attached to Jared at the hip in the two spot. Jared sticks to what he knows which is kind of a two step approach to the book, follow this ridge to this rock, then take a bearing straight shot, while John Kelly opts for a direct line. It would be the last we would see of John until the beginning of our third loop, while going counter-clockwise and we would later learn that as he was heading towards the book he became entangled in a briar patch. The briars took him down and wrapped around his neck and John would end up looking like he'd escaped a cougar attack. 

Book one had been fairly straightforward, but book two would be all but impossible to find as a complete virgin. Jared hit it straight on and all of us doted appreciation on him as we realized how vital he was to our success in that moment. 

We started the near 2000ft off-trail climb away from book two and another member of our group started to falter. As we topped out on some candyass connectors the pace quickened once again and you could hear the scraping sound. We were down to four, Jared, AT, Adam Lint and myself.

As we collectively approached book three, a newly added book for 2016, all but Jared started searching the rock features for where it might be hidden. You are given instructions as to how the books are placed, things such as, and I quote

"If you go to the exact juncture of the two creeks, and cross over to the west bank, there will be a steep earthen embankment directly in front of you. Go left, downstream, until you see the path climbing onto that earthen bank, and turning right to go up the crest. This is only about 30 or 40 feet. Climb up the trail until you are directly above the juncture of the creeks. You will be standing next to a Beech Tree with a Hollow at the bottom. Inside the hollow is book XX"

The instructions mostly make sense if you hit your target spot on, and can kind of make sense for the 101 ways you can slightly miss your target. 

Jared goes straight for a rock on the ground while saying, "I think Laz would put it HERE." Bingo. Slow clap. Ninja.

Onto book 4, standard stuff. From book 4 towards 5 AT tells us stories of how he sat in a mudpit in this area on the 5th and final loop years back squishing mud into his toes for over an hour. He was so delusional he had no idea where he was or what he was doing anymore. He obviously did not finish that year. 

Book 5 involved a short but steep descent and once again we all relied on Jared's precision to save us valuable time. 

Somewhere between Rat Jaw (shown below) which is book #9 and book #12 AT fell off the back and it was but three of us, Jared, Adam and me. We actually waited a minute hoping AT would catch up before turning and continuing on without him. Such is the respect level for a previous finisher of the race. Jared continued to show us the ways of The Barkley and collectively we made haste towards the end of the first lap. 

Photo Credit Keith Knipling

In the clockwise direction the final four miles are candyass trails and they are after you've collected the final 13th book. As we ran down those 2000ft to close out the lap we started talking transition. Adam straight up said he was not continuing at our pace and as I was thinking Jared might declare twenty or twenty-five minutes of "interloopal" time when he spits out,

"Ten minutes?"

Excessively long pause while I process the influx of emotions that came with this tidbit...

"Sounds great...."

Woohoo, camp! Our first lap time was 8:01:19. The conch blew at 9:42am for a 10:42am start time. It was now 6:43pm with a sunset time of just after 8pm and a sunrise time of just before 7am.

Me to Laz as he's counting our pages, "This is WAY harder than I expected it to be. I'm enjoying it mind you and I kinda like what you've managed to piece together out here."

To Jared, "See ya in ten."

To my amazing support crew who consisted of my beautiful wife Linda and our then 7.5 month old son Reed, a buddy from highschool in Newfoundland who now lives three hours from Frozen Head, Shawn Martin, Ethan Newberry (aka The Ginger Runner) and his lovely wife Kimberley Teshima, and finally Matt Trappe...


If I could insert a GIF of the Tasmanian Devil spinning in circles it'd be perfect. Ten minutes later,

"Oh hey Jared, that was fun wasn't it, did you sleep? I thought about it but figured it best to focus on breathing for fifteen seconds."

Lap 2 - Second Verse Same as the First.

Into the night. 

As Laz is handing us our new bibs he reminds us that once we take the bib our crew and camp is off-limits again until either dropping or completing another loop. "Make sure you've got everything you need."

Two headlamps, three batteries, 12+ hours of food, waterproof breathable kit, just in case, cold weather gear as the temps are expected to drop to near freezing, etc, etc. The pack is loaded, weighing maybe ten pounds. We grab our bibs and are off, attempting to cover as much ground as possible before needing to turn on our headlamps. It is now down to just Jared and me and we move remarkably well up the first climb to snag book 1.

At book 2 we come across Canadian Rhonda Marie-Avery, the runner with 8% vision. We are on loop two, somewhere around nine and a half hours in and Rhona, along with her guide, are still searching for the second book. You want dedication? You want resolve? You want inspiration? Look no further. They were within throwing distance of the book and yet they just could not locate it. To their great relief Jared helped them out, I gave her a hug, and we were off again. There was no downtime, there was only focus.

The sun set on us shortly after this and we next lapped runners at book 4. From book 3 we could see a light at book 4 and when we arrived there about thirty minutes later the light was still searching. Starchy, someone I've met at the HURT 100, was going in circles looking for the 4th book. Again the runner was all but right on top of it, but at night the navigation becomes even trickier. We all grabbed a page, placed a rock atop a cairn memorial, and as Jared and I proceeded on towards book 5 we came across a group of maybe five runners. The group was a mix of "get me the hell out of here and back to camp" and "please, please, please just help us find this one next book."

We attempted to convince everyone to come with us towards book 5 but a few were so shell shocked that they were hearing none of it. The group split and Jared helped the eventual group of three, Kimberly, Brad and Starchy, who would go on to set the new longest first loop record of, are you ready for this, 31h59m. We were directing them to book five on their first loop, and we would pass them again on our next loop. I said this afterwards via the Barkley message boards, they, along with Rhonda, were my "heroes of the weekend". No one leaves camp with 32 hours worth of food on them, and very few depart with 32 hours worth of fight in them.

Jared and I had gotten to know each other pretty well by this point and we were clicking along like a well oiled machine, right up until we ourselves got lost in the night. Being very experienced at getting lost in adventure racing I have at least learned one thing over the years, small mistakes become big mistakes and limiting those loses is key. Jared and I were attempting to figure out where we were, while thinking we were perilously close to the one house on course in which the pre-race instructions clearly stated "DO NOT got to this property for help as the owner is entirely likely to shoot any and all trespassers on site" when Jared says,

"East? How are we going east? We should be going west, can you reference your compass here." 

Yes, we were that turned around. At this point I said we needed to sit our assess down and talk this out. In under five minutes we were in agreeance with where we were and just a few minutes after getting up and proceeding in the agreed upon direction we found ourselves back on course. I had helped with something! I felt just a little bit less like a deadweight at that moment and I celebrated the knowledge that we were in fact working as a team and we were most likely in this together until we both made it to the 5th lap.

We proceeded through the rest of loop two without and major hiccups to close our our second loop in 11h01m.

Jared, "Ten minutes?"

Me, "Ya know, an extra five would be dreamy right now."

Jared, "No worries, sounds good."


As I was packed up and ready to head to the gate my bladder seemed to have exploded on my bag. Shit! Thankfully I had packed two of every essential (pack, bladder, compass, poles, etc)

Me to Jared, "My bladder exploded, just need another minute."

"No worries" as he proceeded to the gate and hung out with Laz for a bit. I was not being scraped, we were a team and a damn fine one I might add with how well we worked together and how there was an unspoken bond between us. We got to talk about anything BUT how we were feeling, how we were doing, what our time looks like or how much pain we're in, etc. We can ask questions of each other as long as they don't pertain to these items, and we can randomly spit out any stories that pop into our minds as we go. We were less than 24 hours into this thing and we pretty much knew each other's back stories, kids names, how we each met our wife, etc. It was rather quite pleasant. 

Lap 3 -Counterclockwise.

Photo Credit Kimberley Teshima

I tried to go the wrong way while leaving camp. Nope, it's counter-clockwise time now. About thirty minutes out from camp John Kelly came running down the candyass trail looking strong. We had no idea his story at that point and hadn't seen him since book 2 on loop 1. It was nice to be going in the opposite direction so that you could interact with the rest of the runners who were still in this thing. 

As we were honing in on book 2 in this direction I stepped on a rock that was about a square foot in size, it rolled back and as I slipped behind it it slammed into my left shin. I crumbled to the ground while writhing in pain. Jared was ahead of me and he stopped to ask if I was alright with a bit of a look of what the heck just happened to you? 

On my final long training session leading into Barkley, the overnighter I posted a video about, I'd managed to injure myself. I knew going into that training session that I was in "gravy time" with training and I felt no need to push things, so I agreed to shut it down at any point that night if anything felt off. Nothing did, it went great and I celebrated the training session as I was driving home for breakfast. As I arrived home I stepped out of my Xterra and could not walk without significant pain in my lower left shin. What the hell? Where did this come from? 

Throughout the night of the training session, on one small section of trail, I was postholing through a thick ice crust while coming down the upper parts of the snow covered mountain. The first time this occurred I remember thinking, holy crap that feels terrible, but nothing more than that so I proceeded lap in and lap out to posthole and ignore this discomfort. It would take three more days before I learned that I was suffering from tenosynovitis, initially diagnosed as a tendinopathy. Basically the postholing through an ice crust created an impact injury on my shin in which I'd damaged the tendon sheath, caused an inflammation and could not walk without significant pain. There were 15 days till race day when this first occurred and I was told that the only true remedy was time and rest. Things that could help with recovery included a topical anti-inflammatory, massage, ART work and cold laser therapy.

The following week, with less than a week to go until we flew to Tennessee I was driving all over Vancouver, North Vancouver and Burnaby getting as many treatments as possible. I spent over $400 on sessions and have never been so stressed while leading into a race before. I was unable to do much of anything in the taper phase, which is certainly not ideal, and on one particular day my quads nearly shut down on me while out on a short steep walk working on my compass skills. I had gone from 60 - 0 in training and you just can't apply the handbrake while cruising the highway and expect things to go well. I arrived home after that compass session and declared this was all for naught, I had not purchased refund insurance on our flights so we were heading to Tennessee and if things managed to recover enough to allow me to even start I'd see if I could make it at least a few laps. 

I did not talk about this to anyone who did not need to know about it because I didn't want to believe it was happening, and I could do without the sympathy, support or condolences which would only make it more real. Linda did manage to make me laugh but once when she said,

"It's as if Laz is a wizard and he could see how confident you were in your training so he cast a spell on you just to see if you could handle it."

It almost goes without saying that it is NOT difficult to picture Laz wearing a wizard's hat.

I started the race with nothing but uncertainty, but I also knew that I'd never been so mentally dialed into an endeavor before and I believed deep down inside that I had a chance, even with this obstacle. I asked my practitioners before departing BC what the worst case scenario was and I was told that a lengthy recovery period was the worst case, if I were even able to continue to push through the pain and swelling to get it to that point.

The rock took me down. Jared asked if I was alright.

"I will only speak of this once. I started this race injured, I've been ignoring pain since mile one and my downhills are seriously compromised by this injury (I couldn't remember the word tenosynovitis at that point so I simply said) called a tendinopathy. (As I picked myself up) I'm fine."

Jared, "I've had that before, it really hurts."

And that was that, back to business.

Through book three and four and while going for book five, up Rat Jaw we came across Kim, Brad and Starchy...they were still going on loop one....we were closing in on the halfway point of the 100 miles.

A few hours further along and I asked Jared what his preferred direction of travel was. There is no way in hell that I would have had any shot at this thing without his assistance and it was just a bonus that we were enjoying each other's company along the way. Jared said clockwise and I said great, you go clockwise and I'll go counter when we both get to our fifth and final loop. 

If you don't know, the first two laps are clockwise, the following two are counter and on the final lap is runner's choice, but if multiple runners make the fifth they must alternate direction so that they can no longer work together. I actually really like this rule and believe it adds a wonderful dynamic to things.

We were still on three but now Jared forced me to lead while he instructed me as to what to look for along the way. We were pretty much doing this all along, but now he placed me in front so as to ensure I collect every bit of knowledge to ideally succeed on my final loop by myself. There was absolutely nothing more that Jared could have done to set me up for success and without him this race report would have ended long it is JARED'S FAULT that this F-ING RACE REPORT is so F-ING LONG ALREADY! Thanks Jared!!

As we neared in on the end of three I was pushing up against the longest I'd ever been on my feet continuously. I have completed expedition adventure races before with the longest taking me and my team nine days to reach the finish line, but those are multi-sport and at a slower overall pace. The combination of not sleeping the night before the race, being on foot for over 30 hours, now having covered nearly 39,000 feet of climbing and descent, and then realizing that we were only 3/5ths of the way through this thing lead to my own armour showing chinks. My mind, the number one tool in any Barkley attempt had been my greatest asset up until this point in time, but now it was thinking things through. I was doing math, I was extrapolating pain and thinking it forward, I was losing absolute focus and struggling to believe I could or should go on past this third loop, the Fun Run. I had no interest in a Fun Run (three loops in under 40 hours) and not once had I told myself I'd be happy with this. There was no reward for me in only doing 3/5ths of what I trained so diligently for and what I knew conclusively that I could accomplish, yet here I was, completely entrenched in doubtsville.

We agreed to attempt to sleep after this lap and that we'd spent a total of 90 minutes in camp. Sleep as much as you can in that amount of time but don't be late getting back to the gate. As we thumped down the candyass descent of 2000ft feet at the end of loop three I started a chant in my head, 

"Just keep your feet moving. Just keep your feet moving. Just keep your feet moving."

Nothing else went through my head for the final twenty minutes into camp. Nothing else was welcome there.

We arrived after an elapsed 31h27m. They call this 60 miles, but the true distance is at least 78. Those first three laps at Barkley stand up as being tougher than any 100 miler I've yet to compete in, without question. I believe Hardrock will eventually prove to be harder than three laps of the Barkley (when I get in via the lottery), but the HURT 100 is not and UTMF is not. 

Laz actually looked impressed and the glint in his eye showed a hint of excitement. He knew he'd at least have some 5th lap runners this year.

Matt Trappe Photography

I announced to the team that we had 90 total minutes and that I needed to try to sleep. I fell into my chair, removed my shoes and socks and attempted to eat some real food before laying down. I had onset of trenchfoot but it was not yet full blown. As I was cramming food into my mouth, and rubbing a topical anti-inflammatory across my injured shin, uncontrollable tears started to slowly trickle down my cheeks. I did not know how to go on. I did not understand how this thing called Barkley was in fact possible. I was embarrassed by these tears and yet I could not prevent them. I crawled into my sleeping bag and asked Linda to sing to me. I requested the song we sing to our son when we put him down at night and the uncontrollable tears continued behind my sleep mask.

It was evening in camp and camp was active. I had in ear plugs, I had on a sleep mask, and I had a comfy sleeping pad on a flat surface, but sleep would not find me. Dogs were barking, the bugle was tapping people out and I think a car alarm went off once. I was all too aware of the fact that my 55 minutes of actually laying down was about to expire, and all at once I was up and getting dressed again. 

I did not, for one second, hesitate. I was robotic in my movements while still telling myself to just keep my feet moving. I was up against the wall of The Barkley and that wall was constructed by a master of drystone masonry. I could not conceive of how to get through this wall and as I walked up to the yellow gate with Jared to collect our bibs for the 4th time I passed on through the wall as if it did not exist, for in fact it didn't, it was all a construct of my mind. As we departed the campground on lap four I felt a surge of energy. Before even getting to the first climb on lap four I now knew I was going to make it to lap five. The first crux of the Barkley had been negotiated.

Lap 4 - Who Is This Guy In Front of Me?

Matt Trappe Photography

We were heading into the night, our second. Night nav is incredibly difficult at The Barkley, night nav after being awake for two straight days takes on a whole other challenge. 

As we proceeded through the fourth lap and through the night we made small error after small error. Every micro-error leads to lost time that won't come back to you, and as Jared and I both dealt with hallucination issues we did express that we weren't leaving ourselves much room for error on the fifth and final lap.  

At one point during loop four I'm following Jared through the night and I realize I have no idea of who is in front of me. I start a mental roll call of who it could be, is it my high school buddy Shawn Martin? I almost laugh, nope Shawn is a wonderful friend and we've shared some fun adventures but he is not a runner. Is it Andrew Thompson? No, I don't think I've seen AT since we departed on loop two. Is it Eric Carter? (Eric is an adventure buddy and my partner in our coaching business, no I did not just put him in here to work in a plug for our business I swear) It can't be Eric, he's not on skis and I haven't seen Eric in running shoes in over six months. Who is this guy in front of me? OH, is it Jurgen? I think his name is! I then repeated the name Jared five times in my head before speaking out loud.

"Jared, I'm struggling to remember who the hell you are right now!"

His response, with a bit of a laugh, "I'll be whoever you need me to be, let's just keep moving forward."

Our micro-errors were adding up and the hallucinations were increasing. There are two water drops on the course and as were were closing in on the second water drop over halfway through the lap Jared mentioned being tired. I knew we were both struggling but was aware of the fact that sleep would be challenging, even in our depleted state, as it was a windy and chilly night. The water drop was in a bit of a sump so my hope was that it would protect us from the wind. 

I had, up until this point in the race, not carried a watch. There was simply no point really as you're not allowed a GPS, and time of day could reasonably be deduced given our nice weather pattern over the weekend. I did not know the exact time of night, but I did know we were likely a few hours from sunrise. 

"Do you have an alarm you trust?"


"We should sleep when we get to the water drop, how does fifteen minutes sound?"

"Sounds like a great idea!"

We trudged down to the water and filled our bottles. We knew that upon waking up we'd be freezing and we'd need to get moving immediately. I put on every additional layer and piece of clothing I had in my pack, but I wasn't carrying pants at this point and I had on knee high socks and a spandex short under a running short. I grabbed an empty gallon water jug, depressed a head sized pocket into it and I plopped myself down in the dirt. We set an alarm for seventeen minutes, to allow for two minutes to fall asleep and fifteen of actual sleep.

"Sweet dreams."

I did find sleep, though about twelve minutes on I started shivering from the wind catching my knees and in hindsight I should have pulled apart a box that the water was transported in and created a blanket out of it. I lay there shivering for a few minutes, knowing that Jared was asleep and not wanting to prematurely end his seventeen minutes of bliss, but alas my stirring lead to standing so as to attempt to stay warm and Jared awoke when he heard this. 

"Time to go?"

"Not quite, but I'm shivering so I have to move a bit."

Up he popped and we simultaneously turned towards the slight incline away from the water drop and got straight back to work on the task at hand. The alarm sounded as we were ascending away from our five star accommodations. No wifi, but all you can drink bottled water.

The sun seemed to arrive all too early and we started feeling the pressure of the 60 hour time limit. A new hallucination began as any and all flowing water now became group conversations in my head. I could not discern words, just that I was hearing voices. Given how many water crossings there are on a Barkley loop it was one of the less pleasant hallucinations I would deal with. As we snagged the final book in the counter-clockwise direction and approached the candyass descent back into camp I felt the need to push the pace a bit. Jared had been dealing with his own knee issue for over ten hours already and collectively we made quite the site of hobbled runners. I should have removed a strap from my pack and tied our bunk legs together to create the first ever three legged race in Barkley history. 

I arrived at the gate about a minute ahead of Jared, feeling like this was beneficial to both of us since it would allow Laz to count out pages seperately rather than collectively and thereby save each of us about thirty seconds. Yes this is a preposterous thought as I write this, but that's how up against the clock it was all starting to feel in the moment. In the end Laz showed his own sleep deprivation by restarting my page count no fewer than four times, and just enough for me to start worrying that I'd somehow lost or forgotten a page. In the end Laz counted our pages simultaneously and Jared and I headed into camp at the same time. We had taken 14 hours to complete the fourth. 

My crew surrounded me in prep to get me set and the campsite was a buzz.

"Let's get me outta here ASAP!"

We were efficient, I knew what I needed and I was pumped. I was making it to the 5th lap! Jared described the fifth as a euphoric experience and adrenaline was surging through my body. 

2012 finisher John Fegyveresi offered congrats and words of encouragement saying I had plenty of time to get it done. I responded by saying that I hadn't accomplished anything yet as I was all too aware of the fact that in the last 75+ hours I'd slept about 90 minutes. I knew I had the physical capabilities to close this out, but did I have still possess the mental wherewithal to figure it all out?

Coincidentally Jared and I walked right into each other in the campground as we were heading to the gate to collect our final bibs.

Me to Jared, "I've got an idea! Let's go to that gate, collect bibs and then head off in opposite directions. Let's high five at the exact midpoint on course and both meet back here before the 60 hour cutoff!"


The bibs are handed out and the bell lap is announced with gusto.

Lap 5 - Can I Get A Timeout Please?

In the counterclockwise direction the first mile or so is flat with a slight downhill before the climbing begins. It's about 10am, sunny and the day is promising to be the warmest yet. It's Monday. We started running on Saturday morning. There are film crews everywhere and cameras follow me until the grade kicks up. I'm lucid, focused, happy, and I'm running, like actually running. I reach the incline and continue to push the pace, climbing faster than I have yet to do in the counterclockwise direction. I know the adrenaline will wear off shortly but I can't stop my mind from going to what it'll feel like to hit the gate and close this thing out. I get excited, too excited and I quickly tell myself to "Chill the F out. Keep your focus. You haven't even collected a single page yet." I then go through waves of excitement that are followed by chanting "CTFO. CTFO."

I turn a corner and the trail heads down for a bit. All at once everything feels entirely foreign to me. Have I taken a wrong turn? I look for the green blazes on the trees to confirm I'm still on the right trail, and I know inside that there are no other trails off of this one. Yup, green blazes, this is right, but it all looks wrong. Shit! Did I accidentally turn around at some point? Am I heading back towards camp or away from it? A long pause as I attempt to recall if I've stopped to pee. No. The adrenaline has dispersed and all I'm left with is complete and utter sleep deprivation and confusion. I make a pact with myself that whenever I stop to pee I have to take my trekking poles and place them on the ground pointing in the direction of travel so that I don't make this critical error. My mind is crumbling.

Book one is a near gimme in this direction and I find it without issue. From the first to the second book is fairly complex. I have a new mantra now. "Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass." I start chanting this out loud to myself as I align compass to map and begin my descent. I am aware of the fact that I have little to no room for error now. I can make this happen, I can finish the Barkley in my first ever attempt, I just need to get everything right. 

I look downslope to align my bearing and I see a vivid image of an industrial sized water container, the large white things that are the size of a transport truck trailer.

"Ok, shoot for that water container...wait, I've been through here four times now and I'm pretty sure there's nothing on this slope. Ok, I wonder what this'll actually be once I get to it."

I was at least still with it enough to recognize what was going on in my own head. Sure enough once I found myself in the clearing that was suppose to hold a water container there was nothing even remotely resembling one, not even a tree that I could believe had contributed to this illusion. 

"Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass."

The river came into sight, the confluence came into sight, the incline came into sight and the beech tree came into sight. HOLY SHIT, I DID IT! WOOHOO! Ninja.

Water. Voices in my head. Talk out loud to drown it all out.

"Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass."

I triple checked before I made a single move. Down across the river and up towards book three. I peered up through the forest and I spotted a number on a tree, then another, then another. Clear as day, no doubting that my mind was seeing numbers on f-ing trees. I looked down, I saw faces in the leaves. Anything with two puncture holes became a face. Leaves everywhere = faces everywhere. I avert my gaze, my eyes pan across a pile of small rocks and I see my brother's face on a pebble the size of my pinky nail. "Was that Bryan?"

I try to reason with myself, to talk myself out of this malfunctioning mindset, to regain the necessary focus to continue error free. I again peer up slope and I spot two mule deer prancing through the forest. The deer are far enough away that I process no sound from their movements and all at once they are gone. Was that a hallucination too? Why does this feel like one of the most beautiful experiences of my life right now?

I topped out on my climb and I did not hit my target. The map came out as I started to piece together where in fact I was. My mind felt as though I must have continued too far north, when in fact I was too far south. I started to make the map match my mind rather than the other way around and I decided to move, rapidly, down a ridge in the hopes that I would all but collide with my intended point. I started jogging, then running and then all but sprinting. I was bleeding time but I could limit that by moving rapidly now. Before I even knew what had happened I'd dropped far too much elevation and I was intersecting with service roads. Another challenge of the Barkley is that a lot of gravel roads you cross or utilize on course do not in fact show up on the map. 

As I was trudging one service road I caught my toe and wound up on my face before my deadened senses and reflexes could even respond. It was the harshest fall I'd taken all race and I lay in disbelief for about five full seconds before peeling myself out of the dirt. I quietly murmured "Fuck you Barkley."

The clock never stops.

One hour became two and for the first time all race I lost my cool. Success at the Barkley is predicated on keeping a cool head and dealing with any and all obstacles along the way as part of the challenge you've undertaken. Picking yourself up off the ground time and time again is par for the course. Briars ripping the flesh off of the back of your legs, where the knee bends, is standard fare. Getting lost is just part of the game. For over 50 hours I had slogged away at this thing and not once had I even so much as even flinched in anger, but that was over now, I was all but out of time to make up for this error. I stopped moving, through my arms up, and yelled from deep within,


After two and a half hours I finally located book three. I briefly told myself that maybe I could push past this, that if I found yet another reserve of energy somewhere that maybe I could make up for my mistakes. I dropped towards book four, at the prison, ended up in the wrong gully, came out north of my target and had bled yet more time. This wound was fatal. 

"Well I might as well climb Rat Jaw for the fifth and final time."

I had run out of water and the sun was beating down on me now. I was in full slog mode, no stopping, suffering every step of the way, my mouth becoming drier and more encrusted in salt with each agonizing breath. To stop is to only prolong this discomfort so just get to the top and the water drop. With maybe 1/4 of the climb to go you come into sight for any would be observers from the water tower. It is one of but two points on course where non-runners are allowed. To my joy and dismay a crowd had gathered and they started cheering. I wanting to vocalize something in response but my mouth was all but dried shut. I eventually topped out, went straight to the water table and collapsed in the shade beneath it. There was not enough time left to finish this thing and everyone knew it, especially me. I knew it was but impossible for me to get much further at all without some form of sleep, ideally at least three hours of it. 

Photo Credit Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson, John Fegyveresi, Heather Anderson, Billy Simpson, Nicki Rehn, along with others were all cheering me on while also seeming to derive some sick pleasure from witnessing someone so close to the brink of extinction. This group of people are some of the most accomplished you'll find anywhere and my respect for them is off the charts. They would not let me stop and eventually they kicked me outta there. Again the adrenaline surged a bit and as I descended Rat Jaw I harbored illusions of maybe finding a hidden gear. I did my best impression of a runner and was grasping at straws to keep my race alive. It was like a diesel engine that had run out of fuel, I kept cranking away hoping a spark would catch, but I'd only managed to roll myself onto a down slope and was utilizing gravity while it was on my side.

The terrain flattens and you take a left onto a service road. The adrenaline had worn off and I was struggling to stay awake. I needed sleep, there were no two ways about it, my eyes had to shut for a few hours. I didn't have an alarm I trusted and I was scared to put my head down for twenty minutes as I figured I'd wake up three hours later after the sun had set and I started shivering. I believed Jared might be an hour away so I sat down, removed my pack and was about to lay down, knowing Jared would wake me up when he came by...but then he literally appeared as I was about to go prone. 

Jared to me, "What the heck is going on?"

I explained my plight and that I simply could not go a step further on no sleep. Jared looked sullen, he was genuinely saddened by learning that I would not become a finisher this year.

Me to Jared, "You're doing amazing man! Get on out of here and close this shit out! First ever three time finisher!"

Jared reluctantly departed. Not a minute later two people magically appeared while coming down from the lookout tower. I had gone through so many iterations of what to do next and in the end I was worried that Linda would be worried about me. I could either sleep for three hours, waking once the sun set, and then continue to grab books all night long, or I could accept my fate, ask for a ride back to camp and go listen to the bugle play me a song. I came to Tennessee to attempt to finish the Barkley and the Barkley had won. Nothing I could do in that moment would change this. I had failed and I had accepted it.

It took more than a bit of convincing to get the two people to take me back to camp for as they put it, 

"We don't want to be the people who drove Gary Robbins off course."

"Well it's either you or the first car that picks me up hitchhiking once I drop down to the road crossing."

And with that we proceeded back to camp. I told my ride to drop me outside of the campground so that they wouldn't have to take any flack and I dragged my sorry ass up to the yellow gate. 

Taps played. Danger Dave is not very good at playing taps which makes it sting all the more. 

Barkley 1 - Gary 0

For 55 hours I gave myself to the Barkley, heart, soul, mind and body. I was all in. Nothing else in the entire world mattered for three full days, and I loved it. I did not reach the finish line of the Barkley Marathons but I got pretty damn close. As I mentioned leading into the race I knew it would challenge me in new and unforeseen ways and boy o boy did it ever. During the race I feel like I unlocked a door in my mind that led to a room I'd never entered before and in that room existed a near perfect version of myself, devoid of ego, free of judgement, removed from life's minutia, steadfast in purpose, distracted by nothing, heart wide open with a complete inability to overreact to any obstacle that stood in my way. I wish I could be that person more often.

To be continued.


This race report is ridiculously long so if you've made it this far I commend you, this probably means you could finish the Barkley since you're so dedicated to the process.

Thank yous - couldn't have done it without yous:

Jurgen Campbell - The ultimate badass and an incredible person to boot. Congrats on making history as the first ever three time finisher. I'll pay your entry fee if you line up with me again next year

Linda Barton-Robbins - my rock

Reed Robbins - my inspiration

Shawn Martin - best burgers in interloopal history

Kimberley Teshima - Reed is in love

Ethan Newberry - has a long ways to go on that new beard of his

Matt Trappe - master bladder filler

Lauren Eads + Jason Eads -  don't sell your home in Nashville we want to come visit again in 2017 and we need to borrow your camping supplies

Georg Kunzfeld - a secret German spy

Lazarus Lake - the wizard

Keith Knipling + Keith Dunn + Raw Dawg - save my campsite for next year please

Frozen Ed - thank you for writing the definitive guide on the Barkley, it should be considered mandatory reading by those hoping to apply 

Danger Dave - try playing taps more than just 39 times per year would ya

The end.

Matt Trappe Photography

Image thanks to Melanie Boultbee


My Letter of Condolences Has Arrived - The Barkley is a Go!


My Letter of Condolences Has Arrived - The Barkley is a Go!

And on Feb 29th no less, that's gotta be a good omen on some level.

"dear gary;

it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that your name has been selected for the 2016 barkley marathons, to be held on april 2-4, 2016, at frozen head state park, in the state of tennessee, usa.

it is anticipated that this enterprise will amount to nothing more than an extended period of unspeakable suffering, at the end of which you will ultimately find only failure and humiliation. at best, you might escape without incurring permanent physical damage and psychological scarring, which will torment you for the remainder of your life.

you may, if you so desire, spend the intervening months between now, and april in a futile attempt to perform sufficient training to enable yourself to cover a greater distance before your ultimate demise. however, it would probably be better to spend this time putting your affairs in order...

update your will, visit with friends and relatives, and otherwise tie up any and all loose ends.

should the unfortunate mental condition which led to your application for the 2016 barkley marathons improve, you might still escape by simply writing me and asking that your slot be passed along to some other unfortunate fool. there are many other unfortunate fools suffering from the delusion that they *want* to participate in this hopeless endeavor.

otherwise, please respond with an acknowledgement that you indeed wish to participate, and (if you are not already on the barkley mailing list) write to NOT TELLING YOU to request to be added. this is the medium thru which I will pass along any information related to the race. please do not pay any attention to information from anyone other than myself on this list, as the barkers of the past may have been mentally damaged during their attempts to run the race, and are no longer reliable.

in order to protect your privacy, we will not announce your entry to the race on any public forum. this way, you may be allowed to fail quietly, without anyone ever knowing. however, if you wish to make any public statement about your acceptance into the race; that is your choice... if you tell the world that you will be running, do not be surprised to find your heirs requesting that you bequeath them favored items among your possessions, and making inquiries about the location of your valuables.

may your god go with you;


If you don't know Barkley, here's the wiki link and more importantly here's a great way to kill 90 minutes by viewing the highly entertaining recently released documentary, "The Barkley Marathons, The Race That Eats Its Young", which was recently released to Netflix for FREE!

The Coles Notes (Google Coles Notes if you didn't exist before Google)

-Absolutely one of the toughest physical challenges on the planet.

-There have only been 14 unique finishers in 30 years! Two runners have finished twice. 

-130 or so miles in length, though no one knows for sure / 210km

-60,000ft of climbing and an equal amount descent, as in 120,000ft of change! 18,300 meters!

-60 hour cutoff

-5 laps long. If you finish 3 laps they call it a "fun run" finish. I am not going for a "fun run".

-Never has there been a Canadian finisher of the event.

-The "race" is limited to just 40 runners. Yes, more than 40 people apply for this "privilege" :)

-This is the most quotation marks I've ever used in a blog posting :)

-HURT was a training run for Barkley, and so was this, just yesterday as I knew my letter of condolences was imminent. 


-There are no course markings at Barkley and no aid stations. You get a map, some coordinates, and you go find hidden books in the forest and pull out the page that matches your bib number to prove you found the checkpoints. Lose you pages and you're out of the race. Seriously, watch the documentary :)

-You are not allowed GPS, you are not allowed an altimeter, just map and compass.

-Each time the course is completed in its entirety the course is changed to make it harder the following year. No one finished in 2015 so the course does not change for 2016.

-Apparently 2016 will see the deepest field they've ever hosted as the initial announcement was that four previous finishers and eight previous fun run finishers were returning, and apparently a former Olympian (no idea what country of what sport it was) is in as well.

-There is no race website and they do not publish a starters list. It is up to the person if they wish to openly admit that they are attempting this. 

I applied as you are supposed to back in December and was not amongst the initially drawn entrants, but I did find myself at #8 on the weight list, yes they like to mess with words and they call it a weight list instead of a wait list. One by one I watched people climb the weight list whilst knowing full well that I was high enough to eventually get in. Barkley has been my focus and my big race goal for the better part of the last year. If I did not get into Hardrock, which I didn't, I was focussing on Barkley. This is not to say that HURT wasn't my absolute race goal in January, it was, but Barkley happens on April 2nd this year and as such you'd better be logging race specific mileage through at least December, January, February and March. If I were finally going to apply for Barkley, it was going to be in a year where I was also doing HURT as the training for both is so complimentary. 

A brief summary of my history with the Barkley. I've been dreaming about this day for the better part of seven years, maybe eight. I did come from an expedition adventure racing background into ultrarunning, so I learned of this impossible race early in my ultra career. If I didn't end up injured for all of 2011 I would most likely have applied that year, for a hopeful 2012 inclusion. 

In November of 2012 after working my fitness back from a lost year in 2011, I found myself in a room with two Barkley finishers and a third person who then went on to become a finisher. 

Andrew Thompson - 2009 finisher

Jonathan Basham - 2010 finisher

Travis Wildeboer - 2013 finisher

I brought up the Barkley and of course passionate discussion ensued. I took a lot away from that day but mainly this, you can't prevent the suffering, no matter how hard you try, and sometimes simply trying to prevent that suffering is to your own demise. Jonathan or JB as he's known summed it up best, while throwing his arms out wildly to the sides,

"You know how you finish Barkley, you've GOTTA WANT BARKLEY!"

Plain and simple, Barkley isn't an afterthought, it isn't something you just tack onto a racing calendar, it isn't something to be taken lightly and if you want to finish the damn thing you'd better be prepared to live for it for months and even years on end. This is where I've been for the last few years now, until I finally applied, knowing that there can never be excuses in getting the training in and ensuring I'm as prepared as possible come the day of reckoning. 

That workout shown above, or displayed in this image capped off a week in which I managed 42,000 feet of climbing, while also directing my first CMTS race of the season. It was a busy week and come Sunday the weather was the nastiest it had been in sometime. It was a miserable day with high winds, at time sideways rain down low and blowing snow up high.

All in all I would have preferred 101 other ways to spend my Sunday, but I knew I was eventually, maybe even that day (yesterday) getting into Barkley, and as such there are no excuses, only actions. I fought tooth and nail against quitting before I had even begun and ten and a half hours later I'd logged the biggest vert training day of my life, and by a decent margin. That's why I signed up for the Barkley to begin with, because I know that come race day it will challenge me in new and unforeseen ways, and that in the months leading up to the race, it would force me to be a better person, a better athlete, and that it would force me to challenge myself in new and creative ways. Yesterday was about doing something that not that long ago was beyond the realm of possibility for me, 20,000ft in 31 miles / 6100m in 50km, as a training day.

April 2nd is about facing the greatest physical and mental challenge of my racing career and indeed my life. 

The Barkley is a go, the training is right on schedule, now to figure out how to read a map and use that damn compass :)



About 50% of What I Came For at CSP118 Spain


About 50% of What I Came For at CSP118 Spain

Well shit, that didn't exactly go as planned. 

There were so many great things about today that it's hard to believe it ended in a DNF. 

I was fit and ready, tapered properly, acclimated to the heat (after a week in Mexico + a week sauna training), injury free (even some small tweaks I've been working through for about eight weeks were fully at bay today), my nutrition was dialed, and most of all I ran a really intelligent race.



Video Interview with UTHC

I recently did a video interview with some people who work behind the scenes for Quebec's Ultra Trail Harricana. It was a fun interview covering a bit of everything, and conducted by two industry professionals who work for CBC as their full time gig. I hope you enjoy it. Here's a link to the full French version of their write up about it.

Just one error worth mentioning, when I was asked what my favorite running book was I said Born to Run and was actually thinking Once A Runner. Cendrix was on the same page as me and we continue to talk as if I had said Once A Runner as I'd meant to, which is kinda funny really. I would also like to thank Cendrix and Frederic for there time and commend them on such a great job.


4th Place at Rockyman Brazil


4th Place at Rockyman Brazil

I would say by all accounts it was mission accomplished for Team Canada at our first ever appearance at Rockyman Brazil. A unique format event in which teams compete for the lowest combined time. Six individual disciplines are contested by five team members, with any one team member competing in two events. As a full team of five you add one member (a steersman) for a six-man outrigger canoe race, and then you cap it all off with a team run over trail, sand and pavement in which all team members must stay together but the team is allowed to carry and use a skateboard as they see fit. Yeah, that's about as unique as it gets right.



Finding My Way, at the Cascade Crest 100


When I signed up for the Cascade Crest 100 miler it was with the full knowledge that attempting to run 100 miles just six days after directing three trails races over two days, plus a film festival component was never going to be easy. The Squamish 50 is my baby and I’d never do anything to compromise the race day experience, so I went about business as usual and waited until the show had concluded on Monday to take stock. Nine hours of sleep was what I’d managed over the three days of the race and in all honesty that was more sleep than I’d expected and right in line with what I was hoping to pull off.

The week leading into Cascade involved unavoidable daily naps flanked by pulling course flagging and attempting to tackle all the post-race logistics. Our very close friends Eric Purpus and Kelly Bolinger had rented a cabin (house) in the forest just fifteen minutes from the starting line of Cascade Crest and on Friday Linda and I drove down to Easton, WA. Around dinner time I realized I hadn’t run at all in four days and thinking that couldn’t possibly be good prep for running 100 miles the following morning I hopped out the door to run up and down the service road for twenty minutes.

“That should just about do it. Alright body, you ready for this?”

“Not at all.”

“Perfect! Nothing could possibly go wrong.”

Cascade Crest is a race that Linda’s been trying to get me to do for quite a few years now. The only reason I hadn’t yet targeted it was due to the timing surrounding UTMB. Having gotten sick in France last summer and failing miserably in my attempt at a top ten finish I was starting to wonder if it were possible to direct a high level and highly stressful event just a few weeks before a big goal race. Cascade Crest was an experiment in timing as much as a test of fitness and resolve. Given that the start/finish is all but a six hour drive from our door in North Vancouver there was little to lose, at least in terms of the financial investment surrounding international travel.

Race morning came early, though with a 10am start time it’s quite a civil environment. The CCC (Cascade Crest Classic) has a strong family feel to it, especially for us given that Linda is from Washington and has run the race herself before. The RD, Rich White was in Linda’s wedding party and most of the aid station captains and volunteers are good friends of ours. We arrived on site about an hour early and simply got wrapped up in social hour, which is quite pleasant in contrast to the stress that normally prefaces such endeavors. In hindsight, I realized that I only drank a few cups of coffee prior to the 10am start, as in no water, no other fluids and a very slight breakfast. Fatigue and dehydration were about to become the themes of the day.

That National Anthems were sung and off we went. A competitive field had gathered which included pre-race favorite and recent 2nd place Western States finisher Seth Swanson (15h19m!). In all honesty, my goals going into CCC were to shoot to better the course record time of 18h27m (Rod Bien) while also recognizing that barring injury, Seth was sure to better this mark himself. Secondary goals included shooting for sub 18 hours and attempting to be within fifteen minutes of Seth with twenty miles to go.

Go Time

After a few flat and easy miles the race climbs over 3000ft through Tacoma Pass. I told myself going into this race that I’d be certain to start off slow and easy and I’d successfully done just that over the first sixty minutes. Seth was leading away with Matt Hart in 2nd and myself, feeling comfortable in 3rd. A pack of runners including Phil Shaw (former winner), Jeff Hashimoto and Andy Reed trundled along just behind us.

Two and a half hours passed without issue. I’d let Seth and Matt pull away slightly as I stuck to my “take it out super easy strategy” and I found myself running alone in 3rd. We started into what appeared to be our first sizeable descent and it was evident very quickly that things were off, way off. My legs started cramping up. It was a warm, sunny day with temps getting up into the thirties, but it was also the end of August and I’d been running in these temps all summer long. It was mid-day and the sun was beating down, but this was very abnormal pain. I started the self-assessment, where had I gone wrong? What did I f#$k up already? I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I hadn’t take it out too hard. I was on top of my calories and fluids. Was it just pure fatigue from the weeks leading into the race? I had no idea, but I went about rectifying it in the only way I could, I slowed down further and ate more.

By three and a half hours in it had only gotten worse as my legs were fully seizing up on me. I’d only had this happen to me during a race twice before, in the 2009 Western States 100 and the 2011 CSP115 in Spain. At Western I was 80 miles in and at CSP I was half way to the 115km finish line. In both instances I sucked it up and walked my ass to the finish line. In both races race day temps were pushing 40 degrees.

I was now forced into a full walk on any downhill terrain as my legs were completely tweaking out on me. I could power-hike uphill just fine but could not run uphill. Flat terrain was runnable but not without shooting pain in my quads. WTF was going on?

Stampeded Pass is at mile 33 / kilometer 55 and I was death marching my ass there with what seemed to be a certain DNF awaiting me. This angered me to no end. I had DNF’d UTMF back in April with a foot injury and UTMB one year prior after falling sick on race day. Prior to that I’d never DNF’d a 100 miler in my life and for a brief period in time I was convinced I never would quit on myself in a 100 mile race, yet here I was, about to quit for the third time in my last four 100s. There wasn’t a monkey on my back; there was an ape that had me in a headlock. How could I be so weak? What has happened to my resolve? Who am I and what’s happened to character I used to know as being stubborn and tough enough to finish anything no matter the cost? Why, just why?

As I slogged my way towards Stampede runners started streaming past me. Canadian Andy Reed was first to do so and I patted him on the back and told him to have a great run and to make Canada proud. The towel had been tossed. My day was done and the self-loathing had already begun.

“I’m done with this sport. I suck at this. I’m too old for this shit. I’m a quitter and I’m okay with it.”

“Are you Gary? Are you really? Does any of this sit well with you?”

“F#$K no, of course not!”

“Then find a way. You used to be really good at just finding a way.”

“The finish line is still over 110 kilometers away.”

“How much time do you have left to get there?”

“All damn day, 24 hours or so.”

“Then let’s go just go for a walk and see what happens. You can do that right?”


 “Sometimes the moments that challenge us the most, define us.”
―Lewis Gordon Pugh

I had to let it all go. Ego, expectation, hope, every single goal I’d had for CCC save for one. Just to finish.

As I approached Stampede Pass good friend Phil Kochik from Seven Hills Run Shop was out cheering runners in.

“G-Rob! Yeah man, good stuff!”

“It’s not my day Phil.”

“Sure it is! Still lots of race left to go buddy!”

I stumbled into the Stampede Pass aid station. my crew consisted of my wife Linda Barton-Robbins, Justin Jablonowski (5th CCC 2013), elite WA based runner Maxwell Ferguson who was to meet up with us later in the race, and Ben Gibbard who ran my SQ50k race in 2013.

This was the second time my crew had seen me, and even a few hours earlier they knew that my day was not progressing as we’d all hoped. As I arrived plenty of friends were cheering me along, but I stepped aside to chat with my crew and I asked to sit down. Aid station captain James Kirby looked at me in disbelief,


It was the tough love that any great aid station captain should deliver, but Linda gave him a solemn look and he understood immediately.

“What can we get you Gary?”

“I don’t know, watermelon I guess.”

Ben darted away only to return a few seconds later with the lowest chair in the history of mankind. I sat down all of two inches from the ground and questioned if I’d ever get out of the thing under my own steam.

I ate, I drank, I sobbed internally and maybe even a bit externally. Runner after runner came through, spent less than a minute on site and continued on. Linda, Justin, Ben and now race director Rich White were all gathered around attending to me. Time stood still for me but not for anyone else and twenty minutes had passed before they were all attempting to get me out of there. James Varner of Rainshadow Running came over in his coconut shell bra and frilly grass skirt. James has been a good friend for years.

“What’s going on Gary?”

“I don’t know, my legs just aren’t working; they’ve seized up solid over the last few hours. I can’t run at all and it’s gotten to the point where even walking downhill is painful.”

“What have you eaten? How much fluid have you consumed? How’s your electrolyte intake?”

“Lots. Lots. Not much actually.”

“It’s pretty hot out here today, here take four of these electrolyte tabs now and two more every thirty minutes for the next little bit. What’s the worst that can happen right?”

James’s words rang out like an air raid siren in my head. Had I really made a rookie mistake like this? I know electrolytes are a “hot topic” of debate these days, but on a personal level I’ve always needed a regular consumption of electrolyte tablets to race cramp free, especially during hotter races.
James Kirby came over to check on me and give me a nudge that it was time to get out of his aid station. He saw what was going on and had heard everything I’d said. He asked me point blank:

“Do you want to finish this race?”

I looked at him, “Hell yeah I do.” And I did. I didn’t care how. I just did.

While I was downing my electrolytes and going over things in my head my crew were up in my face mocking me to no end, in that loving “you need to get the f#$k outta here way.”

Justin “Do you need to poop? Maybe you just need to poop?”

Rich “I always feel better after I poop. You should poop.

Linda “Don’t poop your pants?”

Ben “Pooping your pants would be bad, you should poop.”


Having the right crew saved my ass, from poop. They got my poopy pants off and got me moving again. I walked outta Stampede in 8th or 9th place, but at least I was moving again and I now knew that no matter what, I was going to finish the damn race, even if I had to walk the damn 110km to get there.

Maybe the heat was getting the better of me. Maybe fatigue from race directing the week before had taken it outta me. Maybe my lack of actual water consumption prior to the race had dehydrated me. Maybe I just gaffed on my electrolyte consumption. Core body temperature can also be a factor in cramping, so on top of adding in regular electrolyte consumption I started detouring to every water source on course to get myself cooled down.

Go Time - Take Two

Within thirty minutes of departing Stampede, I started to rally. I had honestly given up on much of a turn around and was just content to continue working towards an actual finish, but all of a sudden the seizing ceased. My legs started to work again. The damage had been done, however. My quads were fried. I felt every single step in each quad muscle, but something wonderful was also occurring: it wasn’t getting any worse. I started to up my cadence a bit and shortly thereafter I passed a runner. This simple act of passing one person completely triggered my compete level again.

“Maybe it’s not over just yet.”

Mile 38 and I passed Phil Shaw who was also suffering from what appeared to be cramping. I offered up what I had but he said he was “fine” and he cheered me on as I ran past. Gotta love the comradery of ultra running.

By mile 40 I was feeling better than I had all damn day, minus the quad tightness, but again, it had gotten no worse. I resolved myself to the fact that I’d feel every step all the way to the finish line; however, not only would I reach the finish line, I would do so while competing and attempting to salvage my race.

At the mile 40 aid station I congratulated Ultra Pedestrian Raz on his then recent accomplishment of a fully self-supported traverse of Washington State, though in the moment the details eluded me and I spit out something along the lines of,

“Raz, congrats on your, uh, thingy-mer-bob. Nicely done and stuff.”

To which of course he laughed. My crew were here including my dog Roxy and I went about my new mission of eating each aid station out of soup. After about five minutes I was politely ushered out.
At mile 47, Scott McCoubrey of Seattle Run Co. and White River fame was taking care of business, as he does every year.

“You look great! You’re in sixth. Second through sixth are all within ten minutes of you. Second looks terrible and is likely gonna be the first to falter.”

“What! Really?”

“Yeah man, they’re all within striking distance.”

“What about Seth.”

“Off the front.”

“Figured as much.”

I delved into the soup and spent far too long at the aid station, but I knew that my body was still fickle and the best way to ensure success over the final 53 miles was going to be utilizing the aid stations and not rushing through them.

“Time for you to go Gary!”

“Yeah yeah.”

Hyak Lodge is the virtual mid-way point of the race at mile 52. You arrive at Hyak via a decommissioned rail tunnel that’s two and a half miles long! Hyak was but five miles away and the pack were about ten minutes up on me. I wanted to get back on board while I was feeling well and I told myself I’d close that gap now before it became too late and in case things started to truly go sour again. I pushed harder than I had all day, a little too hard however for as I was clicking out the flat miles through the tunnel at slightly under seven minute mile pace my entire left chain, from calf to hip, completely lit up. I hadn’t experienced pain like that since my first 100 miler at Stormy back in ‘08, but I didn’t even care. I felt like I’d already been through too much to give it a second thought and I grimaced as I plowed through. I knew that the flat running was brief and it seemed to be aggravated by flat more than anything.

Hyak Lodge, the mid-way point. My full crew in attendance including Max as he was now ready to jump in and pace me. They erupted.

“You look amazing! One guy hasn’t left yet, he’s still sitting in a chair. The rest have only been gone five minutes and they all took their time getting out of here. You definitely looked the strongest coming in just now.” (minus Seth who for all intents and purposes won’t make an appearance in this write up again until the finish line, much like on race day :)).

I took this with the grain of salt that a parent compliments their child, but outside of the shooting pain in my left side, I did feel great. My head was in a wonderful space and I was 100% back in the race and shooting for 2nd, 1st if Seth faltered at all.

“Okay, headlamp, soup, electrolytes. Let’s GO!”

I had scouted the CCC course with RD Rich White in early July and knew what lay ahead. Fifteen miles of service road with a few thousand foot climb at the apex. I thought there was no way I’d have the legs to run this, but with my music in one ear and chatting and singing with Max we collectively lay into this climb. We picked off a runner after about twenty minutes to put me in 5th. Ten minutes later we caught good buddy and my former teammate while I ran for Montrail, Matt Hart. Matt definitely looked rough and in that moment I didn’t think he would finish. I said hey and cheered him on as we ran past but he said little in response. Post-race he says to me,

“I had so many things I wanted to say to you there, most of them really funny, jokes, but my brain wasn’t fast enough and you were gone before I knew what’d happened.”

Post-race I say to him “Nice work on toughing it out. You looked like you were in a rough spot when I passed you.”


Max and I pulled into the Kacheelus Ridge, mile 60 aid station just as Jeff Hashimoto and Andy Reed were departing.

“Hey guys.”

“Gary! Nice rally.”

Max to me: “You just ran the fastest split for that section in the history of the race.” (1h27m) (at which point we did not know that Seth was faster still 1h20m)

“You’ve gotta be shitting me!”

“We’re crushing it, man.”

I had just made up an eleven minute gap (splits from aid station to aid station), in eight miles. Game on! The sun had since set and after taking down another half-liter of soup, we were outta there and chasing two beams in the darkness.

I dialed it back a notch on the descent into Lake Kachess aid station. Lake Kachess prefaces The Trail from Hell. In my pre-race course scout this was the one section where I knew conclusively that I would outpace everyone else. The Trail from Hell is a five mile stretch in which the fastest times in the history of the race are all about ninety minutes. It’s non-stop undulation with short steep climbs and descents that are littered with highly technical roots, rocks and natural obstacles, and it’s run at night after 70 miles are already on your legs. In my scouting run, I’d knocked it off in 45 minutes. I hit the aid station at mile 68, continued on my soup mission and after another five plus minutes, Ben and Linda were pushing me outta there. I walked the road through the campground while finishing the cup of soup I took to go, then I looked at Max. After my soup consumption mission at Kachess and my walk through the campground 2nd was 10+ minutes up and 3rd was 7+ minutes up.

“Whadaya say we go about getting back into 2nd place right now?”

I devoured the trail, dropping Max three times in the process as I danced through the nastiest bits of the route. Max would push hard on the less technical to catch back up and by the half-way point we caught up to Andy and his pacer Simon Donato.

“Nice work, Andy.”

“Great job, Gary.”

And then a perfectly timed high-five from Simon as we flew past, into the darkness and into 3rd place.

Jeff Hashimoto was no slouch on technical apparently and it took right up until the final mile heading into Mineral Creek to catch him. Turns out Max knew him and they started chatting as we all hit Mineral Creek collectively. Two miles from Mineral Creek you’re allowed to have your crew drive in to meet you. I was switching pacers here between Max and Justin, so we simply tagged the aid station and continued up. It was the horrible grade in which you’d run if you had the legs and you know that others around you are running it and gaining time on you. I’d put forth the effort I’d hoped to on The Trail from Hell and bettered the fastest times by over ten minutes at 1h19m, and I even gained ten minutes on Seth in the process, not that that was going to change anything in the running for first though :)

As I walked the two miles up the road to my crew, Jeff cruised on past like it was nothing. My brief stint in 2nd lasted about twenty minutes but I still held hopes of regaining it again before the finish.
Max and I reached the crew and I decided to sit down for a minute to get some hot fluids and calories into me. This proved to be a terrible idea though as the warm day had given way to a very cool evening and within minutes of taking a seat I started to shake, eventually violently. Shit, I thought, this is bad. Linda and Ben threw a blanket on me as I took down the final calories. Max’s pacing duties were done and Justin was in. He was sporting a blue wig I’d worn to pace Linda at Grindstone and a crazy mish-mash of brightly coloured clothing, including some insane print tights. I put on every layer I was willing to carry to the finish and as I shakily stood up to depart, I turned to Andy Reed’s family and crew, teeth fully chattering:

“Be sure to tell Andy I looked like a million bucks when I left here, okay? :)”

Justin and I headed out on a painfully long six mile uphill walk. I knew that the final 20 miles are almost all single track while going over what are known as the Cardiac Needles. Smack dab in the middle of that you reach your highest point on the course, Thorpe Mountain at around 8,000ft and there is a 4,000ft descent into a flat final four miles to the finish. Like is the case in most 100’s, the race doesn’t even really begin ‘til mile 80.

Seth was gone and he was all but guaranteed to smash the course record. Jeff had passed me before I sat down so he was likely closing in on a ten minute gap ahead of me and Andy was just minutes behind me. It appeared that I was fighting for 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. I really wanted 2nd, but also really didn’t want 4th, so I started playing a bit more defense rather than offense.

Up, up we went. Justin almost begging me to run.

“I need this. I’ll run the final 20, promise, but right now I need the physical and mental break until we get to No Name AS.”

Good friend Laura Houston manages No Name year after year and this year another good friend, Besty Rogers joined her. Less than a mile from the top there is a quarter mile long sweeping switchback in the service road. All of a sudden my light was shining directly down towards Andy’s, him being all of a few minutes behind me now.

Hi to Betsy and Laura, more soup and more soup to go and Justin and I were out. It was now back to offense for the remainder of the race and I got my mind locked solidly into catching back up to 2nd place.

At Thorpe Mountain there is a one mile out and back. I crossed paths with Jeff just as he was completing his out and back and Andy crossed paths with me just as I had completed my own. We were all about evenly spaced in ten minute intervals. This meant that I had made up a few minutes on both Jeff and Andy over the last few miles.

French Cabin is the second to last aid station on course and Eric Purpus told me that if you’ve got the legs, it’s less than two hours from there to the finish. I arrived in about 17:03. Sub 19 hours was somehow still in range and that became my only goal. If I could close out in under two hours I’d happily take whatever position that gave me, whether it was 2nd, 3rd or 4th.

I absolutely thumped down the final 4000ft descent with a complete disregard for the now excruciating pain my quads were suffering through. Nothing else mattered and I simply cranked up my music and let gravity do its job. I still held illusions of catching 2nd as I knew I was moving incredibly well.

Along with Justin, we came screaming into the final aid station. I didn’t even ask for splits I just grabbed some chocolate and started in on the last four miles to the finish. The barn was near, the result all but certain. Neither Jeff nor Andy were anywhere in sight, but I wanted this thing over, and I wanted my sub 19 hour finish time.

Justin to me: “If I knew we were start sprinting for the finish at mile 95 I would have packed my track spikes.”

I felt no pain, only pride. Some twelve hours earlier I had my head in my hands, anger in my heart and my butt in a really low chair. The finish line wasn’t just in doubt at that point, it felt like mission impossible, yet here I was about to snag 3rd while closing out with a faster pace than I’d sustained all day long. We made our way through Easton and the finish line came into view. Emotions swelled up inside me and I damn near sprinted across the line.

18h54m. 3rd place and the 7th fastest time in the history of the race, and somehow, all of this after facing demons, doubt, cramping, crying and having my crew use the word poop no fewer than a dozen times. It’s a funny sport this ultra running. Just when you think you know something, it’s time to step back and remind yourself that you know nothing. No two days are alike, no two races are alike. Show up, put your heart into it and don’t quit on yourself. Sometimes you might just surprise yourself with the outcome and the resolve you find.

Race Director Rich White handed me my belt buckle and almost immediately it lept outta my hands and onto the rocks below, getting dented and scratched all to hell in the process.

“Shit, do you want me to get you another one?”

“No. It’s perfect. Just like my race.”


Some Splits

Gotta throw a huge shout out to the best crew ever.

Linda Barton Robbins, Maxwell Ferguson, Justin Jablonowski and Ben Gibbard. I honestly have no idea how I would have finished this race without all of your contributions to it. Thank you so much for helping to make this race such a special experience for me.

Sponsor Shout Out:
Salomon – Sense Pro / S-Lab Adv Skin 5 / S-Lab Light Jacket / Start Tee / Trail Short
Suunto – Ambit2
Princeton Tec – Apex rechargeable
Hammer – Bars, gels, endurolytes, seat saver
Drymax – Maximum protection trail running
Moveo Sport and Rehab – for keeping my body from breaking down on me and allowed me to start these races in the first place.


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Team Canada at Rocky Man Brazil

Brazilian visas in hand, Team Canada is ready to tackle Rocky Man Brazil for the very first time!

An opportunity I obviously could not pass up on, Rocky Man Brazil is a team race with each person racing independently for the lowest combined team effort. There are twenty teams with six countries represented. All teams consist of five team members with one person needing to compete in two events. Teams can select which two events are covered by one person, and all but one team member must be from the team's country of origin.

Solo disciplines include: Surfing, SUP, Skateboard Mini-Ramp, Mountain Biking, Male and Female Mountain Running.

Team disciplines, to be completed side by side include: an outrigger canoe paddle and a road/beach/trail run.

All racing takes place on Saturday, November 8th.

Team Canada consists of:

Anne-Marie Madden - Woman's Mountain Run

Is a trail and road runner from Vancouver, BC, Canada.  She is a member of the Arc’teryx trail running team and winner of the 2014 Canadian Mountain Running Championships.  In 2014 she won six trail races ranging from 13 to 60km, set multiple new course records and achieved new personal bests on the road in the 10km (35:03) and Half Marathon (1:16:35).  Her upcoming 2014 races include RockyMan in Brazil and the North Face Endurance Challenge 50mile race in California.

Greg Day - Mountain Bike

Lives in Squamish, BC Canada, and has been a racing bikes for the better part of 2 decades. He has spent the last 5 years racing on the Canadian Professional Rocky Mountain Factory Team, and will continue with the RMB squad in the 2015 race season. Greg has taken the overall BC Bike Race Team of Two Pro Men title in both the 2013 and the 2014 season with two of his Rocky Mountain Factory Teammates. Greg’s focuses on mountain bike stage races, and single day marathon races. He enjoys longer more technical racing, and is happiest when he has two wheels beneath him.

Keegan Sauder - Skateboard Mini-Ramp

Born Nelson, BC. Skating since he was ten years old. Lives in Oakland, CA and is a full time student/nerd/skater.

Andrew Logreco - Surf - SUP

Was born and breed in Encinitas, California. He is 30 years old and for the majority of his life he has been in and round the ocean doing more less all of the above- surfing, swimming, paddleboarding, stand-up paddling, running and so on... In turn he became an ocean lifeguard at the age of 18 in San Diego, California. Around the age of 22 he moved to Oahu, Hawaii to continue his lifeguarding. 

Gary Robbins - Men's Mountain Run

Likes to run, preferably in mountains and over super technical terrain.
Born and raised in eastern Canada in Newfoundland I moved west in search of mountains in 96 and never looked back. I have called British Columbia home for more than a decade now after a lengthy stop in the Alberta Rockies along the way.

After dabbling in expedition adventure racing for many years I moved onto ultra distance trail running in 2008 where I truly found my niche. 

If I find any kind of "follow along" details I'll be sure to link them. Wish us luck! Go Canada Go!

Saturday, Nov. 8th
7h - 9h30: Surf
8h - 11h: MTB 
8h45 - 9h20: Skate – free training
9h30 - 13h30: Skate
10h - 16h: Men’s and Women’s mountain running 
14h - 15h15: SUP
16h30 - 17h45: Outrigger Canoe 
18h - 19h45: Team Running
20h: Award Ceremony and Closing Party

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Transkarukera 120km, Guadeloupe - Follow Along


Transkarukera 120km, Guadeloupe - Follow Along

I've kept my latest racing plans a little under the radar over the last eight weeks. This was nothing more than wanting to ensure I was 100% recovered from the lingering foot issues I've dealt with this year and not wanting to outwardly commit to a racing goal until I knew I was good to go.


Guadeloupe. What? Guadeloupe. Where? Guadeloupe. How? Guadeloupe. Huh?



GR + EC Coaching Services

I've had good interest over the last few years from people inquiring about if I offer coaching services, but I've always politely declined and passed along contact details for others who specialize in doing so. I myself have created a handful of coaching programs in the past for close friends, and I've always enjoyed the process, especially watching those runners achieve their personal running goals.

The main reason I've never seriously entertained the run coaching business is because I'm acutely aware of just how much work is involved in it all. I know I have a passion for it, but I also know that while coaching you absolutely need to be all in, and as such I always held back as I realize it has to be all or nothing for it to be fully beneficial to the people you're training.

Enter into the fray my good friend Eric Carter, who's currently a PhD student studying the effects of altitude on elite endurance athletes. Eric also has his masters in Kinesiology and is a pretty accomplished endurance athlete himself.

Eric and I have gotten to know each other quite well over the last twelve months and for most of the winter season we've discussed at length how we should go about entering into coaching as a team, bringing our complimentary skill sets and years of hard earned knowledge together to offer up the best possible end product.

We are both very excited to announce that we'll be working together as a coaching tandem. We'll be offering two levels of coaching, a one-on-one personalized service, or a a one time purchase of a 20 week training plan that would be slightly customized towards your first 50k or 50m race, whether that be the Squamish 50 or the Knee Knacker.

Since this is our first time working together on this we have decided to open up with a limited capacity of just ten one-on-one clients.

Programs will officially start on March 15th with the application process now open.

If you have any questions whatsoever please do not hesitate to contact us. Whether we become a part of your training process or not, I wish you all the best in your forthcoming racing goals!




A 100 Mile Journey Around Mt. Fuji

I do not have a record of who took this picture and shared it with me.
If you recognize the image please notify me so I can give proper photo credits
The first climb of the race held approximately 1600 feet / 500 meters of elevation gain and it began just two miles in. After nearly decapitating a few teammates due to some non-breakaway tape on the starting line, I narrowly avoided being stampeded by the nearly 1000 runners behind me who were also tackling the 100 miles around Mt. Fuji. Staying controlled over the first few miles was no easy task and even while hanging back around 12th place overall I still managed a few back to back 6m30s miles to open my 100 mile journey. (If you want a good laugh FFWD this video to 1m47s and then freeze frame it through the start)

The fact that my calves were already feeling lactic while climbing unusually large and seemingly endless dirt stairs by mile four just reinforced the fact that UTMF was a bit of a different beast. A 100 mile run in which approximately 30% of the terrain was paved and fully runnable, yet the remaining 70% would somehow contain nearly 30,000ft / 9,000m of climbing and descent. It just didn't make any sense to me. The math seemed to be missing a variable. How steep could the terrain really be? Oh hardy har har har. The joke was in fact on us and the equation was about to be balanced, one painful mile at a time.

Shinpei Koseki
After twelve miles of racing and the aforementioned 1600 foot hump I'd had nine miles of running at seven minute mile pace or better under my belt. That's not the kind of running you'd expect to do in a mountainous 100 miler. The next four miles, which took us to the sixteen mile aid station, were covered at an approximate 7m30s pace over undulating terrain. Immediately following the aid station we were finally into the steepness I'd prepared for. The trail underfoot on was an approximate 30% grade which is very comparable to the grade I did the bulk of my training over. The first 16m/26km of the race, had been covered in just over two hours.

With a 3pm start time and a 5:30pm sunset my Princeton Tec headlamp was now shining bright. I had held my own over the opening miles and slowly moved my way up into the top ten, and then the top five. Within the first mile of this climb I now found myself up in fourth. Just two miles later and the course topped out at close to 5,000 feet, in which I was anticipating a super enjoyable descent. Though the terrain disappeared nicely at a near 35% grade in the upper portions I picked my way though it before I started to experience acute and intense foot pain. Foot pain directly where I had broken my foot twice before. Foot pain that I had not felt since getting back off of crutches over a year and a half prior. The pain would be brief but super intense and left no doubt as to its whereabouts, and it was freaking me the f#@k out. The sensation never lasted for more than the individual foot strike and was acute enough to balance perfectly with allowing me to continue racing while never allowing me to stop worrying about when it might flare again. A nice little internal dialogue ensued in which I basically told myself that I'd have to pull out of the race if it didn't somehow rectify itself. I've been in hospitals in New Zealand, Australia, El Salvador, Honduras, Oregon and Hawaii. I've filed over $20,000 in out of country medical claims (that have all thankfully been fully covered by my $75 annual policy) and I simply had absolutely ZERO intentions of adding Japan to my international hospitals list. At 36 years of age I'd really prefer if the next time I end up in a hospital is when Linda and I start a family in a few years time.

One, two, three, four, five. Five "f#@k me" moments in about an hour of running. As the terrain eased underfoot the pain within the foot disappeared altogether so I just decided to roll with it. In a funny conversation with friends after the race.

"It was an intense localized pain from about hour three till four, but then it subsided and I never felt it even one more time over the next sixteen hours of running"

By the time I'd reached the water station at about mile twenty three the foot pain seemed a distant memory, though I was then hoping that it was not going to be terrain specific and simply spike in pain again on the impending descents. As mentioned though it subsided and never flared again. As a preventative measure I actually had an x-ray on it today and even my Doctor could not believe how great the images looked. All is good and it just seems to be 'one of those things' that can happen when you go and run for a full day in the mountains.

I spotted Australian runner Brendan Davies hitting the water station ahead of me but failed to notice that I'd passed him in transition. About a half a mile after the water station there was a volunteer on the gravel road who was directing me to my left and onto a singletrack climb. The course flagging, which included reflective lights, pylons, volunteers, volunteers with mini light sabers and just generally anything and anyone in place to ensure you did not take a wrong turn was truly beyond anything I'd ever seen in a 100 mile race. It's a testament to Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, his team and the entire Japanese running community, and quite the site to behold. This volunteer directed me to my left. There were little blinky lights on the flagging tape up the climb. I looked left, then up, then up further, then straight up. I tried to make a joke in English to the volunteer which involved me using my arm like an airplane taking off. We were about to go vertical.

Shinpei Koseki
I train on steep-ass terrain. I LOVE super steep unrunnable terrain that forces you into a power hike, bent at the waist, hands on knees, straining to breath just to sustain twenty minute mile pace. I excel at this discipline though I'd never seen anything quite like what I was staring at before. It was the lack of noticeable switchbacks that really accentuated what I was confronted with, but the next single mile was going to climb 2600ft / 800m at a maximum grade of up to, including, and slightly over 50%. For reference a double black diamond ski run will often be in the 30-40% range. Because there were blinking lights on the flagging tape going up the trail it felt as though you could look straight up, like you should be able to see stars but instead they were flashing and you knew you had to pull those stars out of the sky under your own power. I reached forward in the dark to grab any solid object I could find to help pull me up the trail. A friend described it best when he said, "and then the trail was right in front of your face"

You never really feel like you're racing up this terrain as your cadence is so low, though the lack of oxygen reaching your brain leaves no doubt that you are indeed pushing to you maximum pace just to continue forward momentum. Before I realized it I was closing in on the headlamp of then second place French runner Cyril Cointre. I pulled ahead of Cyril just before our 50% grade climb gave way into a 53% grade descent. Cyril pulled right up to me and all of a sudden we were kind of caught up in a 'who's the better downhill runner' game among two guys who obviously prided themselves on how they could cover downhill terrain. Nothing about what we were doing felt overly intelligent but it was fun to have another runner to push the pace with.

After a slight uphill grind in the landscape I promptly took my head out of my ass and pulled aside, waving Cyril past and simply saying "you lead" to which I immediately let him go. We were less than thirty miles in and on the first of what was promising to be many sizable descents. It was far too early to be revving the pistons up. Not ten minutes later did my quads reiterate my decision by starting to cramp.

'You've gotta be kidding me' I thought. I glanced at my watch to see I'd been racing for approximately 4h30mins. 'This is bad. This is really bad. I don't know if you can recover from this Gary? I think you've potentially already made mistakes that are going to haunt you for the rest of the race.'

The Greatest Magic Trick I've Ever Performed. Disappearing, Reappearing, Disappearing Quads.

I huge component of ultra running and more specifically 100 mile running is the ability to constantly and honestly assess your physical situation so that you can make appropriate decisions that ensure you are able to perform at your optimal level. I was struggling through some tough decisions and realizations that also forced me to question the first 4+ hours of my day. Had I gone out too hard? Was I running someone else's race without noticing it? Could I maintain my current slightly slower pace without cramping or would I have to slow further? Was my race effectively done? Would I be forced to drop out? Would I even finish this race today? How could this be happening to me? Quad strength and resilience was one thing I worked hard at and prided myself on, how in the world could that be my weak link on this day? Were my quads getting better or worse? How was my nutrition? How was my nutrition? How was my nutrition? How was my...

I'd been doing a decent job at staying in the optimal range of 200-300 calories an hour since the race had begun but I had been ignoring the overwhelming sense of hunger that would not subside no matter how many race food calories I injected. Looking back over my day in that moment I realized that I'd in fact eaten very little in advance of the 3pm start. It was now 7:30pm and I hadn't had much of a meal in nearly twelve hours. The mere recognition of this seemed to prompt an unsettled grumble in my belly as if it were calling for help. I had a Hammer bar in my pack so I reached back and promptly devoured it. Sure enough, some solid calories combined with the slightly slower pace and my quad cramping subsided. This small victory felt pretty huge in that moment and I high five'd myself in my mind for working my way through it.

What goes up must go down and on this ridge that meant going up again, and then down again, and then up, and down and up and down and up and down again, and then for good measure you went up a sixth distinct spine before finally dropping some 2700 feet in just over a mile with a maximum grade somewhere in the 57% range. From start to finish this approximate 12m / 19k section took three full hours. An hour after the first quad issues my quads started to speak to me again. Once more I managed to eat them back into submission.

When we finally dropped down off this ridge we hit pavement and flat runnable terrain again. Time to wake up the legs!

As I was approaching the mile thirty-three aid station in third place, while running paved roads through a small town, a Japanese runner wearing #113 came screaming past me like he was in a 10k road race. The only thing I could figure was that he was looking for the accolades that would come with arriving at the aid station in third place while also being the first Japanese runner. There was simply no way that he was running a smart race and his pace certainly wasn't sustainable so I wrote him off without a second thought. Turns out most of us did. Hara Yoshikazu wasn't one of the pre-race favorites and I knew this when he passed me. I'd paid attention to who my competition was and who I needed to be aware of. Hara was in fact running his very first 100 miler, though he had won a 100km trail race in a time of 6h33m, which is pretty nuts. This of course was all information that I would not be able to source until after the race. In that moment Hara was just a runner that I was certain would either DNF or slow considerably and struggle to finish at all.

Shinpei Koseki
I hit the aid station in fourth, thirteen minutes behind defending champion and pre-race favorite Julien Chorier, 4m30s behind Cyril, and now one minute behind Hara. The race was six and a half hours old and I was exactly where I was hoping to be. Heading to Japan I had every faith in my abilities as a 100 mile runner over mountainous terrain, and after training with last year's second place finisher Adam Campbell I had every confidence that I was strong enough and healthy enough to challenge for the lead and a hopeful podium finish. The race was still in its infancy but I felt like I'd dodged a bullet with my quad issues, and once I saw my amazing Salomon support crew and they provided me with a triangle of rice wrapped in seaweed it only served to confirm my earlier findings. My quads had started to seize from a lack of overall calories on the day, not a lack of per hour racing calories, and getting solid food into my stomach was like riding on the wings of a unicorn...or at least how I'd envision that to feel. My spirits were buoyed by a simple 300 calorie reward and my legs seemed to forget that they'd threatened to leave me for dead just an hour earlier. (I've been told that if I don't correct Unicorn to Pegasus that I won't be getting married in Sept...OR Unipeg, greatest creature ever not created)

The next twenty-two miles of the course, bringing us up to the midway point, were predominantly paved and with a continual slightly uphill grade. This was the longest sustained runnable section of the entire race. Adam had told me about the UTMF course and how sections of flat'ish pavement were interspersed relentlessly with super steep mountain terrain. In training I'd run a 50km road run on a near weekly basis for the last few months. This wasn't as much about developing any additional foot speed as it was about training my mind to handle the monotony of this task at hand. I needed to learn how to zone out and click off kilometers for hours on end without a single excuse to walk, hike, or stop for any reason. This training was now paying dividends for as much as I continually wanted to stop and walk this section of the course there was simply no physical reason to do so.

We could not have gotten any luckier with the weather for the race as just hours before the race started a few rain clouds passed over the starting line and we were concerned for what might lay ahead. In the end we ran under a cloudless sky AND a full moon! So bright was the night sky through this exposed section of the course that I managed to shut my headlamp off and simply run by the light of the night orb over my shoulder. Though we were covering a mix of paved and then gravel surface road it was at least an isolated backroad in the forest with absolutely no car traffic or outside distractions. It felt as though we were running through a park and with my headlamp off, lit from above, clicking off mindless miles of the race I found one of those rare and special moments of peace. This is why I do this I thought. This is special. This journey and sense of adventure is what I crave from life.

I have a storied history of getting lost in races. It was this and this alone that forced me to once again turn my headlamp back on as I knew I'd never live down missing a turn in the night because I was running with my headlamp off. Not two minutes after I switched my lamp back on though did I end up jumping over a dormant snake on the side of the road. Just an over sized grass/garter snake was my best guess but having been confronted by a brown snake in an Australian expedition adventure race once I at least decided to pay greater attention to where my feet were landing.

As the road angled upwards the motivation to continue running waned, but again there was no reason other than mental fatigue to break stride. At about this time I spotted Cyril up ahead and walking. As I caught him all he said was "how far?"
To which I responded "About 3km"
"Okay thanks"

Taking it down a notch three hours earlier had saved my race.

There was a slight and slightly unexpected out and back as we approached the next aid station. Hara came running towards me, to which I spat out, "Wha!? Am I going the right way!?"

His general lack of response told me that his English probably rivaled my Japanese, and that this was likely an out and back.

Next up was Julien, now less than five minutes ahead of me. I was in third AND I'd managed to make up eight full minutes on him in that section, but Hara was now eleven minutes clear of me and showing no signs of weakness. It was clear now that Hara was indeed a threat on the day, a completely unexpected runner was not only in the lead but he'd been making significant gains over all of us on the faster sections of the race.

Out and back sections can be pretty tough in trail races. The forest and mountains can hide so much, with runners merely minutes apart never once catching a glimpse of each other. In referencing post race splits it's evident that nothing really changed through this section in terms of competitors behind me catching up, however they were now thrown in front of you like they'd appeared out of nowhere and were somehow running twice as fast as you. The out and back was only a few miles long and I said hi to nearly half a dozen people behind me. This had the effect of getting kicked in the nads repeatedly. Again like unicorn wings, not something I've yet experienced in my life, but basically how I'd expect it to feel.

I had JUST made up nearly ten minutes on one Julien Chorier yet somehow because there were half a dozen runners within thirteen minutes of me I became convinced that the wheels were coming off. So convinced of this was I that I started coaching myself for how to react WHEN those runners behind me caught me. In essence I was prepping myself for the inevitable letdown that would occur and attempting to rally in advance of this letdown to ensure that I didn't temporarily give up on myself WHEN those runners caught me. This is a common reaction when things like this happen in racing and basically I was recreating it in my head to attempt to limit my loses once it actually unfolded. I promised myself that I would make every additional effort necessary to latch onto those beasts behind me once they tracked me down and I'd fight like hell to keep from getting spit out behind them. All the while being 100% certain it was an inevitability.

Shinpei Koseki
I just kept trucking along as the terrain grew in steepness and technicality. I kept my head down and went to work and a funny thing happened. No one caught me. I shoulder checked repeatedly and it wasn't until I arrived at the next aid station unscathed that I had managed to regain some of my confidence in how well I was moving. I just never ceases to amaze. You are moving at a set pace of 10km/hr for arguments sake. You catch the runner in front of you and you naturally speed up and feel amazing. The adrenaline catches a hold of you and you can't believe how FAST you're running. Reverse the scenario, going the exact same speed, in the exact same initial head space, yet getting caught yourself you somehow suffer a massive letdown and your mind gets the better of you. I was thankful that I had yet to deal with the latter and was hopeful that I'd soon be dealing with the former.

Clearing another aid station without seeing a runner from behind and learning that I was holding my own against the two in front of me was reassuring. The next section of the race contained the literal and figurative high point along with one of the weirdest things I've ever heard of in a trail race, a mandatory walking section.

Immediately after departing I was instructed "no running in this section." This had of course been covered in advance of the race but now that I was confronted with its reality I was disappointed that the terrain was in fact so damn flat and easy. To be all alone in third in a highly competitive 100 mile race and then to self govern walking over terrain that you would be forced to run if you sneezed or caught your toe on a rock was a bit torturous. It demanded trusting that your opponents were in fact honouring the same rules as you. Given that Japanese culture is probably the most honour based society on the planet I convinced myself that should I chose to run I'd surely be struck down by some god of the trails and have my foot clear severed in half should I break their code of conduct. Not a minute later I came across two volunteers almost hiding in the woods and holding up a sign in English,

"Walk Only"

I was congratulated with a ceremonial golf clap for adhering to the rules. Truth be told though I was shoulder checking the entire time while attempting to channel my inner Olympic speed walker, swaying my hips hither and tither and had I spotted a headlamp closing in on me I was prepared to erupt into a sprint as there was no way a gap of the minutes I possessed could be honestly closed if everyone were walking, speed walking or not. I saw no lights and was thankful for it. The flat slowly steered itself upwards and before long a hike was all anyone would be able to sustain anyways

As we topped out at the highest point on the course at just under 6,000 feet the full moon illuminating Fuji immediately to our left, as we were now on her flanks, the landscape transformed itself into a lunar style volcanic rock. Volunteers manned the high point and said in broken English,

"Okay to run"

I basically asked them to repeat those words three times before I exploded into a scree field of volcanic rock, taking a few kilos of it with me in my shoes to deposit at the next aid station.

Photo Credit Shinpei Kosecki
The next 6m/10k was almost all downhill while losing about 2,000ft of elevation. I departed ten minutes behind Julien for 2nd and arrived at A7 - 105.3km just eight minutes in arrears. The volunteers at A7 actually told me that I was eight minutes behind BOTH runners. BOTH runners! I thought, that's it Hara has cracked and Julien hasn't been making any ground on me. Looking at the somewhat inaccurate course profile I figured this was my best chance to put in a bit of a push and to get myself within striking distance of the lead.

Hearing that I was eight minutes back I was hoping to make up five minutes over the next ten miles of the course. I wanted to arrive at A8 - 121.7km and hear the words,
"You are just three minutes behind the leaders!"

If I remember correctly it was 3:30am what I started into the climb and felt just slightly better than Death on a Monday after a long weekend. It was finally time to use my greatest weapon, my music. I pulled out my MP3 and bluetooth earbuds and fired it up. Within minutes I was wide awake and moving faster over the mountains than even I would have guessed possible. Singing out loud, pumping my fists to the beats, anticipating and embracing the terrain ahead rather than fearing it. The music in my ears quickly made me feel at one with the earth under my feet and though I'd hesitate to say I felt like I was floating over the terrain I became confident and almost hyper aware of my every stride. This confidence lead to more unencumbered running than a body wearing nearly 13 hours of constant movement would normally possess. My questions about IF I was making time on Hara and Julien were replaced by questions about HOW MUCH time I was making. I simply knew that with relatively consistent splits between all of us over the last forty miles that I was now outpacing my nearest competitors.

The sun started to rise and presented a scene of beauty that left me nearly pinching myself. Fuji in all her glory, a full moon lingering off her shoulder, a red blanket colouring the horizon, and a Lake Yamanakako appearing from within the shadows down below as though a curtain had been drawn back on its slumber. A brief moment after digesting all of this and there were photographers and videographers dotting the landscape in front of me. They'd positioned themselves for just this moment in the race and I threw my arms in the arm and screamed,
"Can you believe this! This is AMAZING!!"
Shinpei Koseki

Shinpei Koseki
Feeling the sun rise over you in a race that takes you non stop through the darkness of the night all by yourself is a bit like the warm embrace of a loved one that you've gone far too long without seeing. It's all at once foreign and familiar and comforting beyond reason. I was now wide awake and alive by every possible definition of those words, and not five minutes later this happened (fast forward to 1m45s for the sunrise shot and what follows)

I came around the corner and he was right in front of me. I had no inkling that I was so close to Julien
Shinpei Koseki
and that I'd taken back the eight minutes he had over me in half the distance that I though it would take to gain just five of those minutes.

As I pulled up alongside him he asked, "Who's that?"
I responded "It's Gary"

Even though we'd met a few days earlier and spent enough time together via the team to become acquaintances he just was not expecting to see ME and hence did not process who Gary was. I pulled alongside of him and as he looked over to see just who was there he inadvertently uttered "Oh non non non"

This was comical for numerous reasons, not the least of which was that he just seemed to have blurted out his thoughts more than anything else in particular. I managed to translate what that meant into English though.

"Umm, excuse me! Non, non, non. There's a clause somewhere in your Salomon contract that states that you can not pass Julien Chorier. I think you need to step aside and revisit what you signed IMMEDIATELY you smelly Canadian bastard."

(Julien could not be a nicer person. None of what I said above was actually thought by Julien, at least not that I know of. He in fact came up to me post race and specifically commented on how impressed he was by how I was moving at that point in the race...before he laughed at me for beating me and jabbed me in the eye with a French flag...and he even apologized for not realizing who 'Gary' was in the moment. Class act all the way with a great sense of humor as well)

I had just passed Julien Chorier. If I'm not mistaken Julien had yet to be been beaten in a 100 mile race and his resume is stoopid stacked with amazing results. It was mile 75'ish and in that exact moment in time it was the best I'd felt compared to where we were in the race all race long. My Imagine Dragons song I referenced in my HURT race report was next up on my playlist and the trail cut left and proceeded straight down. My adrenaline was pumping and within two minutes of passing Julien I could no longer see him behind me on an open section of trail.

I'D WON THE RACE! It was mile 75 and I was in second, but with all the positive emotions that had collided inside of me it was like a cheetah had mated with flying squirrel that'd co-evolved with a flying fish...that'd be one badass creature with wings mind you, I was dropping miles like I was counting in the 90's for distance and not the 70's.

Mile 75...76...77...78...79 into the aid station with cameras and live feeds and the unexpected 2nd place runner getting his fair share of early accolades.

"How do you feel?"

"Like this race is about 21 miles longer than I'd realized"

I was in and out without seeing that not only was Julien just over five minutes behind me, but he had now teamed up with fellow French legend and co-pre-race favorite North Face runner Sebastien Chaigneau.

I knew within a mile of departing the aid station that I'd given too much too early. I'd made a mistake and now I had to pay for it. This was my sixth hundred miler yet I should have and do know better than this. I was internally scolding myself as I processed just how bad the damage was.

Could I finish? Definitely, eventually, with a 48 hour cutoff at least I would hope so.
Could I catch the lead runner? Absolutely not.
Could I hang onto second place? Doubtful. It's not like Julien Chorier goes 'oh I was passed by a runner. On no no no, I guess that is that and this race is over for me, it was nice while it lasted'
Could I hang on to top ten? I certainly hoped so but honestly I was in a bad spot and I knew it.

Head down, go to work. Don't think, just do. One foot in front of the other. Eat, drink, repeat. Distract the mind as much as possible. Try not to look at the mileage on the Ambit as it's clicking off slower than paint drying. Try to stay positive. Try not to freak out at the fact that Julien has just passed me while I was filling my water bottle at the next water station. I swear he shot laser beams through me with his eyes as if to say don't even f#@king think about trying that shit again!

Try not to look straight up at the fact that this climb appears to go on forever. Try not to freak out over the fact that Sebastien, who I haven't seen since mile five, has just appeared out of thin air and is passing me like I'm moving backwards. Am I moving backwards? Hard to tell but either way I'm giving it all I've got.

Seb tells me the worst is yet to come.
"Yup, steepest section of the race is yet to come."

Nothing, and I mean nothing on my course profile eludes to or prepares me for what's to come. I honestly thought I was about to the top of this section, the apparent last significant climb of the race, but in fact I was on false summit one of three and the top was a clear cut rock scramble. I LOVE rock scrambling, when I go out for a f#@king ROCK SCRAMBLE not for a 100 mile running race!

Foot hold. Hand hold. Foot hold. Slippery mud from the frost overnight that's melted in the sun. Literal movement backwards. Hand hold. Root Hold. Rope Hold.
Am I having a heart attack?
No you just wish you were so that you'd have an excuse to stop.

THE TOP! Shit you've gotta be kidding me. The downhill is so steep that I have to use the ropes on the trail to make my way down the supposedly easier side of this mountain. Only six more miles / ten kms of downhill to go until the final aid station.

A10. Mile 90. KM 143

They tell me the splits to the three runners in front of me. I laugh in their faces. I grab my supplies reminding myself that I'd still really prefer to finish 4th over 5th, and 5th over 6th, and 6th over 11th. I feel like the finish line is somehow moving further away from me. I detour to the actual aid station and literally twelve volunteers behind the table stand at attention and almost try to 'sell me' on their foods in front of them. They're wonderful. All of the Japanese people have been. Everything in this race save how I've actually run my final twenty miles has been wonderful. I take a slice of orange and everyone celebrates in unison. I realize I'm the first runner that's touched anything outside of my own supplies that my crew has laid out for me. I eat five slices of orange and they count off each and every one. It's comical and heart warming all at once. I thank them in my best broken Japanese and get on with my near but not quite death march to the finish line.

It's not the climbing miles that scare me it's the flat and downhill miles as those are where I'll lose the most time to my stalkers.

About 45 minutes later,
"Eight miles / thirteen kilometers, all downhill"

It was toughen up time and I was really struggling to convince myself that this would all be over shortly, and that the faster I ran the sooner it'd end. I walked and shoulder checked more than I care to admit. Then I caught up to the very last runner in the shorter STY race. The three sweepers around him were all but literally sweeping him off course. I detoured his way and threw my arm around him and told him how strong he was, how he was almost home, how everyone would be so proud of him. I knew he wouldn't understand the verbal language but communication and support comes in many forms. He found me on FB two days later and thanked me via google translator. I told him how much he'd helped me without realizing as much. I think in hindsight I was attempting to speak to both of us.

The terrain gave way to a steep gravel road descent. I leaned forward under the assumption that inertia would propel me forward and that somewhere tucked away deep inside I actually cared if I fell on my face or not and I'd prevent that from happening by moving my legs faster than they'd moved in hours.

I was too close to quit now. Too close to not win 4th place. We passed through a temple at the bottom of our last climb, right before the gravel gave way to pavement. The temple and temple grounds looked impressive and warranted stopping to appreciate them further, at least that was the latest argument that popped into my head as an excuse to stop torturing myself.

I could see the finish line now, though it was closer in sight than it was in running distance as we were to run an arc around the lake and across a bridge first. Purgatory. My legs started cramping. I didn't care. One mile. A half mile. A quarter mile. Nothing but cheers and applause. Nothing but smiling faces and positive energy and love. Nothing but pure elation.
Photo Credit Shinpei Koseki
Photo Credit Koichi Iwasa
4th place.
The hardest 100 miler I've ever run.
The most talented field of runners I've ever gone up against in a mountainous 100 miler.
I couldn't be happier. I couldn't be more that moment I thought as much, but just sixteen hours and fifteen minutes later I was happier still, I was far more proud.

Thank you Japan
Thank you Kaburaki
Thank you amazing UTMF volunteers and organizers
Thank you Team Salomon, especially my crew who I could not have succeeded without
Thank you Justin Jablonowski and Rich White for hosting/helping me/us in Japan and motivating us to sign up in the first place way back in November
Thank you Kim and James for the surprise congratulations decorations upon our return home
My amazing crew. Photo Shinpei Koseki

I sincerely hope to return again and to ideally spend more time in Japan appreciating and exploring the culture and the history further. I've dreamt of going to Japan my entire life. I've dreamt of running an internationally competitive mountainous 100 miler since 2008. I've dreamt of being healthy and at the top of my running game since 2010. I've dreamt of Entering the Ninja since I was five years old. Three out of four ain't bad I guess, three out of four ain't bad.

Photo Credit Shinpei Koseki


PS: I have an athlete page on Facebook now and an online like will help grant you three wishes!
If you like this page within the next 24 hours you will find something amazing in your life.
If you like this page within the next 12 hours you'll be rich beyond your wildest dreams.
If you like this page within the next 6 hours you'll have the skills of a Samurai bestowed upon you in your sleep
If you DO NOT like THIS PAGE something you love will be tragically taken from you while the whole horrific incident it is inexplicably live tweeted via my Twitter feed. Feel free to follow me on Twitter as well, though I'd strongly recommend against it if you don't LIKE THIS PAGE!



My New Mantra

New for 2013, Salomon Sense Mantra - my favorite!
A mantra I started using in late 2012 was 'fight'. That's it. Just that one word. Fight.

I started using this for the first time during the Mountain Masochist 50 miler in early November. It was my third time running the race and there were some climbs that had forced me into power hiking during my previous two times on the course. I knew I was trained and ready to race, and that I should be able to finally run the majority of those climbs. My goal was sub 7 hours which I feel I would have run had there not been snow on the course, and of course had I not detoured for almost six additional miles. Anyways, during those climbs I still had to fight my tendencies towards power hiking. I still had to convince myself in those moments that I had it in me to run terrain I'd never run before.

I simply chanted in my head "Fight, fight, fight...fight, fight, fight" and low and behold I forced myself up and over the steepest parts of the course faster than I'd ever done so before. It wasn't easy, but it isn't supposed to be. Fight.

I've never been one for mantras, but for me, this simple word sums it all up perfectly. It was a long few years fighting through injury. It was difficult to fight through the lack of confidence in my own abilities after being down for so long. I had to fight day in and day out to stay motivated during my own training and to believe that I would get back to where I once was.

When you line up at a race you're out there to fight against the course, against the weather conditions, against the competition, and most of all against your own internal dialogue and weaknesses. You have to fight through all of this to stay focused if you want to get the most out of yourself come race day. For me recently, it's come down to simply reminding myself that it's not supposed to be easy. To achieve your absolute best, you're going to have to learn how to fight, and the hardest battle we all wage is against ourselves and right inside our own minds.

"The mind is weak. The body is a machine. Control your mind and your body will be forced to follow."

One other Mantra I've acquired recently has already lead to happy feet and fun times on our local trails. My favorite new shoe! The Salomon Sense Mantra.

Here's A quick video review on competitor magazine

I had my very first run in these shoes today, and I absolutely loved how they hugged my midfoot while giving me ample room in the toe box. This is known as ENDOFIT which is a Salomon exclusive technology. It's an internal fit sleeve designed to hug the forefoot and improve feedback and foot wrapping. Along with this the drop is but 6mm, which I'm a big fan of. 16mm in the rear and 10mm in the front. This is not a minimalist shoe but I'm not a minimalist runner.

The Mantra is based on the S-Lab sense that Kilian wore during his 2011 winning run at Western States.

"The Mantra adds only a few essentials to make it friendly for everyday running; a little more cushioning, a little more protection, and a longer OS tendon to return more energy.
Natural motion construction for running has a lower heel drop, supporting a midfoot or forefoot-oriented stike, better enabling muscles to absorb more shock instead of joints and ultimately building greater balance and overall running efficiency."

My debut in the Mantra via STRAVA. A brand new shoe for 2013 and it already owns some of the KOM's on The North Shore:)




Hibernating 101

After three full weeks away from running I'm chomping at the bit to get back at it again.

Why three full weeks off this early in the season you may ask?

Well basically my season breaks down to HURT which happened on Jan 19th, then UTMF which at 156km is all but 100 miles, on April 26th, and finally UTMB at 168km on August 30th. My goal is to do well at all of these races, to stay healthy throughout the year, and to learn from past mistakes.

After HURT in 2010 I went straight back into training the following weekend as I was riding the high of a successful race. Within the month however I got sick, and I stayed sick for the better part of four weeks. When I recovered from that flu I hit it hard in preparation for the 2010 Miwok 100km on May 1st. I was unknowingly well on my way to my first ever DNF and a forced month off of training as I was suffering from over training symptoms and iron levels that were border line anemic.

Tracking back further than this, while trying to establish a pattern here, in 2007 after my adventure racing team returned to Canada from a successful expedition race in Baja, Mexico, where we'd slept just 90 minutes in 72 hours before snagging an unofficial 2nd place overall (a much longer story as to the unofficial part). I was also riding a high from that experience and I got back to serious training within days. Three weeks later and I was so sick that I ended up with bronchitis which seriously compromised the following two months of training and impacted my entire summer.

As I sit here closing in on the end of my forced three weeks of downtime I am indeed fighting a minor head cold, though minor being the main word here. Had I not scheduled in this downtime I would surely have ended up decently sick for a month or more. I can't afford to lose time to illness this year, just as I can't afford to lose time to injury. Dare I say that I might just be learning from past experiences here.

Following HURT my body surprised me in the fact that it was definitely the best I've ever felt post 100 mile run, heck I didn't even lose any toenails this time, which I was almost looking forward to:) I very easily could have gone about training within six to seven days and though I know better I could have successfully raced the Orcas Island 50km race on Feb 2nd, where I decided to volunteer and drink beer instead. 

Jamshid showing off the greatest ping pong table ever made

The view from atop Mt. Constitution

Starters shot

In the 19 days since my 100 I believe I've run a half a dozen times, and 50% of those have been with my run clinic that I help coach at NSA on Tuesday nights, which is to say I didn't have a say in the matter:) My longest run has been all of five miles and my total mileage is probably 30 miles...actually it's less than 30 miles, wow. All that to say, I ain't kidding when I write that I've effectively shut it down for the better part of a month.

I am confident I've made the right decision though, and for a few reasons, predominantly because I'm pretty fired up to get back to training again. As of Monday Feb 11th there will be exactly 75 days until my next 100 miler, the UTMF in Japan. I'll likely start off with a 50 mile week to ease back into things and follow that up with 60 and then 75-85 mile weeks depending on how things progress. All in all I feel great right now and am somewhat impressed with myself in the fact that I put a plan to paper, in terms of scheduling in this rest period, and I've actually stuck to it without issue. 

It's time to get back to work again though, and I couldn't be more excited about the path that lays ahead. It's time to start dreaming about racing in Japan!!




Guest Speaker - VIMFF Sunday Feb 10th

This Sunday February 10th I'll be a featured speaker at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival's "Trail Running Show"

Gary Robbins: Fueled By Cheese – Trail Running in the Alps

VIMFF Trail Running Show
Sunday, February 10, 7:30 pm (doors 6:30 pm)
Centennial Theatre MAP
Buy Tickets Here -

The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is a 168km lap around the 4800 meter Mont Blanc, the highest summit in the Alps. Along the course runners have to overcome more than 9600 meters of elevation gain and loss while travelling through three countries to beat a 46 hour cutoff. With 2300 runners from 60 different countries, the UTMB is often referred to as the default world 100-mile running championships. It has continually attracted the best runners on the planet since its inception in 2003.
In August of 2012, North Vancouver ultramarathon runner Gary Robbins went to Chamonix, France to compete in the UTMB.  In his 20-minute presentation, Gary will share his ups and downs and detail why he feels that the loop around the Mont Blanc massif is a journey that every fit and adventurous soul needs to add to their bucket list.

Tickets are still available and are $19 in advance and $21 at the door, however, consider yourself warned that last year's trail running evening did sell out in advance of the night.

It would be great to see you out if you happen to be in town. Check out the full line up of films on the evening. It's sure to be a fun one!




BCMC Descent FKT - 15m52s

It's rare that I have a run where I celebrate it like I've just won The Stanley Cup. Today was one of those very special days.

With perfect conditions on the local BCMC trail, which is listed as a 3.3km / 2 mile trail that loses 853 meters / 2800 feet over an average grade of 25-35%, I leaned into it and held on (stayed upright) all the way to the bottom in less than sixteen minutes.

Just last week I ran a 19m29s descent in which the conditions were a bit more complex, and I commented afterwards that I thought I could break nineteen minutes. That was my goal today. That was all I expected to see when I clicked the lap counter once I'd reached the gate at the bottom. Seeing a time of 15m52s sent me into a flurry of leaping around like an idiot.

Now this run will certainly have to be noted as a snow assisted descent, though you still have to cover the terrain underfoot. By perfect conditions I mean that there is a decent snow pack over the top portions of the route so you can really stride out over what is normally very technical terrain. The mid portion however is a bit of a slushy slip and slide and my downhill ski experience certainly contributed to keeping me upright as I slid as much as I ran through this section.

The bottom was a mix of snow, ice and then the normal rocks and roots. I managed to rip my microspikes off my feet in about six seconds flat and refused to pause my watch for any reason as I didn't want to compromise the GPS file.

I pretty much turned myself inside out on this run. I made but two missteps in the snow which cost me a few seconds and had just two hikers who refused to relinquish the trail and forced me into the knee deep snow on the sides of the trail. All in all people were incredibly accommodating, and I attempted to give them as much heads up as possible with friendly "hellos" as I approached. The run really couldn't have gone any better. My only regret is that I wasn't wearing my GoPro for the whole thing:)

What really makes this an extra special run is that I've been training my tail off in preparation for my first 100 miler in two and a half years, that being the HURT Hawaii on Jan 19th. With 115 miles / 190km in the last six days I don't get much more tired than I've been as of late, but thankfully the body has stayed strong and my mind is simply being strung along for the ride right now.

Enough blogging, it's time to convince my mind that it wants to go for yet another run already.



The Bee's Knees

It's been over a year and a half since I met Leon Lutz at a running conference in Utah. I was impressed by his dedication to his beard, he was impressed by my dedication to my running. We hit it off and shared a few drinks over the course of the weekend.

Leon asked if I'd mind doing an interview regarding my injury and recovery process following my initial broken foot, and I happily obliged. Neither of us could have ever guessed it would take the better part of 18 months to finally piece this together, but then again neither of us could have dreamt that I was in fact nowhere near the end of my recovery process when we first met. Au contraire, I wasn't even at the midway point since the second broken foot had yet to actually occur.

I have to admit that I get a touch emotional as I read Leon's take on my story. I believe he's done a great job in really summarizing what the last few years have truly been like for me. It's not been easy. It's not been without its constant self doubt and frustration. I think the reason Leon nailed this one, outside of his writing skillset, is in essence because he kind of lived it along with me. Leon became personally invested in my running successes and failures after we'd befriended each other and agreed to conduct an interview on the premise that I was already fully recovered from a jones fracture (I still can't even type that word without a tinge of anxiety hitting me).

As we leaned toward making that initial interview a reality everything went sideways again. I never would have believed that a full recovery could take nearly as long as it did, and Leon didn't even broach the subject again until he knew that I felt it was finally behind me. Eighteen months along and I find it was actually worth the wait, because although one's story is ever evolving, we hope and believe that this lengthy chapter has finally been put to rest.

Leon's blog is titled "This Bee's Knees" and here's the link to his interview. I hope you enjoy it.




Taking The Stage

I have very little experience in the realm of public speaking, though I do love attempting to engage an audience. A month back Sean Verret from FEAT Canada (no this has nothing to do with jones fractures thankfully) contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in presenting at The Centennial Theatre, which is only a block away from my house.

FEAT standing for "Fascinating Expedition and Adventure Talks" and was first held in South Africa one year ago. In all honesty the premise of it scared the crap outta me and I instantly dreamed up a dozen reasons to say no. This of course meant that I had to force myself to get past my fears and step up. I've had an undertone of excited stress ever since, and on this coming Tuesday November 15th I'll take the stage with eight other presenters. Here's the official write up, I hope you can make it out.

Inaugural FEAT Canada comes to Vancouver's North Shore

FEAT, an evening of adventure sport-themed talks, has crossed continents and the Atlantic Ocean to land in Canada for the first time. The first FEAT Canada evening will take place as a part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF) Fall Speaker Series in mid-November.
Fascinating Expedition & Adventure Talks (FEAT) was first held in South Africa a year ago. In this time there have been three FEAT events, presented in the cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Created by adventure racer Lisa de Speville, FEAT invites speakers from a range of adventure disciplines to talk on recent accomplishments and expeditions. It’s a fast-paced, slideshow-based presentation format where each speaker has only seven minutes to tell their story. Far removed from a formal speaking platform, FEAT is social and fun and the audience is encouraged to interact with speakers; ooohhhs, aaaahhhs and laughter colour the theatre.
FEAT Canada’s line-up of nine speakers includes Jen Olson, Kevin Vallely, Megan Rose, Nicki Rehn, Paul Gleeson, Philip McKernan, Scott Frandsen, Gary Robbins, and Sebastian Salas. They’ll speak of adventurers and expeditions in the disciplines of rowing, cycling, mountain climbing, ultra-distance running, skiing and mountain biking.
“It's fantastic to have so many great speakers from the lower mainland, Vancouver Island and Alberta,” says Verret, who has enthusiastically leapt into the adventure of presenting FEAT Canada. “We truly are lucky to put together a line up rich in record holders, adventurers and motivators. The night will be a magical and inspirational.”
FEAT Canada will be held on Tuesday, 15 November 2011 at The Centennial Theatre in Lonsdale, North Vancouver, British Columbia. Tickets are $15 and they can be booked by contacting (604) 984-4484. or online here
FEAT Canada is made possible by the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF;
You’ll find FEAT Canada on the web at There’s the speaker line up as well as links to videos of talks from the FEAT South Africa events. FEAT is also on Twitter (@FEATCanada) and Facebook (FEATSA).
CONTACT: Sean Verret, sean@featcanada.ca604-365-7326



Quick Reflection w/Pics - 1st Season Of Race Course Managing

Late last year I commented to a few friends on how I was looking to explore options for race course directing and design. Amazingly enough and shortly thereafter it all started falling into place, and this year I joined the teams for the Mind Over Mountain Adventure Racing series, the 5 Peaks trail running series, and a forthcoming local Red Bull Divide and Conquer adventure race. I felt as though just being brought on board by these highly successful and established brands was a victory in and of itself.

Basically as the course director/manager I'm responsible for everything from the inception of the specific race course until its completion. Starting with assisting in course design, pre-race flagging, implementing a race day safety strategy, dispersing of volunteers, setting up aid stations, managing volunteers while runners are on course, addressing any on the fly emergencies, and then packing up and making it appear as though you were never there to begin with. It's a behind the scenes job and I truly loved every second of it.

Obviously unforeseen was that I would end up directing all but one of these six races while on crutches, or in a colossal sized walking boot. All in all though I'd consider this to be a highly successful first season from a course directing standpoint, and I learned something new at each and every turn along the way. Being thrown onto the mic as race day MC for the Whistler version of our 5 Peaks race was the most daunting and hence one of the most rewarding experiences of my summer.

Between these six races I saw over 2500 runners and adventure racers (obviously not 2500 individuals as most raced multiple times) and we had ONE person take a wrong turn for the entire season. We're still not quite sure how that person made the wrong turn, but either way, I liked our save percentage (to steal a hockey term). Having raced for several years now myself, there's nothing I hate more than getting lost while on a flagged course (and I'm exceptionally good at this) so it's at the very top of my list of things not to f-up, though 5 Peaks have certainly been leaders in this realm since their inception.

I'm really looking forward to being back on board with all races again in 2012...unless of course they're secretly looking for my replacement as I speak? 

It was a pleasure to be a very small piece in the very large puzzle towards ensuring race day success, and I'll truly miss the monthly meeting of familiar and smiling faces. Our trail running community is as strong as any I've come across and we should be exceptionally proud of this.

Of course our access to beautiful locations certainly doesn't hurt, and as an example, here's how the season finale looked at Buntzen Lake yesterday morning. Thanks to all who frequented these races this year and I look forward to seeing you again in 2012.

First wave start of Sport and Enduro courses

Ghost kids 1k race
Original unaltered shot from top of posting. All pics were taken on an iPhone 4

Flooded beach due to an upper lake dam being spilled

Flooded beach made for spectacular shots

Trimmed and flipped. Otherwise unaltered. Water reflection on top

Trimmed and turned. Reflection on left. Otherwise unaltered.

Trimmed, flipped, and brightened with a filter

Trimmed, turned, and brightened with a filter, plus an added border

And finally, never, EVER leave your car keys unattended



Musings From The Sidelines - Weekend Ultra Story Lines

A couple of big races took place this past weekend and as always there were many story lines that emerged. A couple that stood out to me

(Hope Pass)
Ryan Sandes's 100 Mile Debut

South African Ryan Sandes won the Leadville 100 miler with the 3rd fastest time in the race's 28 year history. Yeah, that little race in Colorado that attracts one of the largest fields of any North American 100 miler. The race with a low point of 9,600 feet, and a high point of 12,620 while cresting Hope Pass...twice. That little race where the two fastest times ahead of this 100 mile rookie's performance are Matt "The Lung" Carpenter and Anton "My Bones Heal Faster Than Yours" Krupicka.

It's not like Sandes is inexperienced by any stretch of the imagination though, as he's the only person to ever sweep the Racing The Planet stage racing series. That does little to diminish the shocking caliber of his 100 mile debut however. And, if you happen to be keeping tabs, yes that another Salomon victory this year, and yes that's the 4th major US race to be won by an 'out of towner' since December.

NF 50 Champs - Heras
WS 100 - Jornet
Hardrock - Chorier
Leadville - Sandes

Can a U.S. runner finally snag victory at the most competitive race of the year, starting in France on Friday evening? (and yes my heart bleeds just a little bit every time I think about missing out on that starting line)

Dave Mackey Back Atop UROY 2011 Voting?

Dave Mackey got back to form again on the weekend by breaking yet another course record. This time at the Waldo 100k in Oregon. This one is summed up nicely right on their homepage: It is not a beginner-level ultra and participation in the race should not be taken lightly.

Dave shaved just over four minutes off of Erik Skagg's 2009 effort, in which you may recall he ran himself straight into the hospital, which thankfully he eventually fully recovered from.

After Mackey finished 8th at Western States he seemed to fall out of favor with the UROY chatter, even though his 8th place finish was a pretty damn solid 16h36m effort.
It will be interested to see what the voters think come year’s end, though there is still a lot of racing to go. I'm curious if we'll see similar to past years, where there seems to be a weighted voting process associated with the distance of the runs upon one's resume. Though it's pretty hard to argue the stats:
-1st CR Bandera 100k
-1st Amercan River 50m
-1st Miwok 100k
-8th Western States 100m
-1st CR Waldo 100k

Canadian Back In The Mix

Canadian runner Chris Downie broke onto the scene a few years back with some impressive results, before seeming to disappear for about a year. Well it appears the BC native is back with a vengeance as he pulled off a very impressive 4th place finish at the above mentioned Waldo 100k on the weekend. Downie finished just ahead of Oregon's own Yassine Diboun, who is a highly regarded ultra runner, and all around great guy period.

I believe Chris's next race will be another Oregon gem, the Pine to Palm 100 miler in mid September, and I'll say right now that I'm picking him for a podium finish. Chris has shown nothing but success over longer distance runs while winning his first 100mile and 146km races.


So whatdaya think? Is Ryan Sandes poised to become the next great 100 mile runner? Is Dave Mackey your pick for UROY through 2/3 of the year? Have you ever raced against Chris Downie and come away shocked that a man who looks like a football player can be so damn fast?